Coach Jim Mora leads the UCLA Bruins to the field to take on the Rice Owls last… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
The Jim Mora coronation is over at UCLA, and the coach is happy to be moving on.
There were Bruins faithful who grumbled when he was hired now giddy with the memory of a nine-win season and a victory over USC.
But 2012 ended with a three-game losing streak, including a 49-26 shellacking at the hands of Baylor in the Holiday Bowl.
"The destination is still far out there," Mora said. "I like the excitement that was generated last year, but nobody was satisfied with how the season ended. Nobody was satisfied with nine wins."
Mora now aims a bit higher. "When we played Baylor, quite frankly, they were a more physical team," he said. "That night stuck in everyone's craw. Bad night, great lesson."
So if you thought practice last spring was intense …
UCLA's spring practice begins Tuesday on campus at Spaulding Field, culminating with the spring game at the Rose Bowl on April 27. Practices are open to the public and begin at 7 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:45 a.m. Saturdays and 6 p.m. Mondays.
The Bruins start spring knowing who is at quarterback — Brett Hundley. But there are questions left to answer. Here are four of them:
Buddy, can you spare 1,700 yards?
Johnathan Franklin is gone. The Bruins need one or more backs to step forward or the running you'll mostly see is Hundley scrambling for life and limb.
Damien Thigpen was one of the answers, but he suffered a serious knee injury late in the season and may not be ready by summer camp.
So … Jordon James gets first crack. He gained 215 yards last season but was short on consistency. Steven Manfro, used mostly at receiver, will spend more time in the backfield after he recovers from shoulder surgery.
Which leads to Paul Perkins, who was a redshirt last year. He is the wild card in the mix. He gained 1,297 yards as a senior at Chandler (Ariz.) High.
What's the cover charge?
Last year's starting secondary is gone — three finished their eligibility and safety Tevin McDonald was kicked off the team.
UCLA did get freshmen some work last season. Cornerback Ishmael Adams was developing nicely, then he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Cornerback Marcus Rios was doing well, but he has health issues related to sinus problems and will be brought along slowly.
Safety Dietrich Riley's return becomes key. A two-year starter, he missed last season recovering from neck surgery. He's been cleared for full contact. One safety spot appears to be Randall Goforth's to lose.
Safety in numbers?
UCLA's offensive line remains a work in progress, but there are blocks with which to build.
Offensive line unit meetings might have to be held in Pauley Pavilion. By summer, there could be as many as 22 linemen in camp.
UCLA returns four starters on the line, but they need to look over their shoulders. Guard Xavier Su'a-Filo might be the only starter with job security. Torian White starts off at left guard, with Simon Goines moving from the left side to the right side.
Who's in the punt, snap and kick competition?
The special teams have significant holes.
Ka'imi Fairbairn is secure as the kicker. But who is going to snap the ball? Who is going to hold? And who is going to punt?
Punter Jeff Locke and long snapper Kevin McDermott are hoping to launch pro careers.
Christopher Longo will get first crack at McDermott's job. Locke, as holder, was a steadying influence on Fairbairn. Jerry Neuheisel may take more snaps as a holder than he does as a quarterback.
Punts are another matter. Locke was the best in the nation. Mora is banking on incoming freshman Sean Covington taking over.
Until Covington arrives this summer, the best punter in camp will be the Jugs Football Machine.