NEW DIGS, NEW AT­TI­TUDE

Bru­ins begin train­ing camp at new fa­cil­i­ties de­ter­mined to put last sea­son be­hind them.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Ben Bolch ben.bolch@la­times.com Twit­ter: @latb­bolch

UCLA play­ers open train­ing camp at the new $75-mil­lion Wasser­man Foot­ball Cen­ter on the West­wood cam­pus. Coach Jim Mora says there is a “cul­ture of ac­count­abil­ity” among the play­ers af­ter go­ing 4-8 last sea­son.

The sun set over UCLA’s new foot­ball prac­tice fields like an Im­pres­sion­ist paint­ing Wed­nes­day evening, ar­rest­ing hues of red and blue meld­ing with wispy clouds.

The end of the day marked the dawn of train­ing camp and the start of what the Bru­ins hope is a re­birth of their win­ning ways un­der coach Jim Mora. The gloom of last sea­son’s 4-8 record was gone as an air horn sounded to sig­nal the start of prac­tice, trig­ger­ing ex­u­ber­ant yells from play­ers as they milled about the two ar­ti­fi­cial turf fields.

It was the first of three con­sec­u­tive prac­tices slated to start at 7:15 p.m. to ac­com­mo­date the class sched­ules of play­ers en­rolled in the sum­mer ses­sion. A hand­ful of fans peered over the ledge of an ad­ja­cent park­ing lot as play­ers com­menced the usual rites of a first prac­tice in shorts and jer­sey tops with­out pads. Play­ers’ fam­ily mem­bers ob­served from a pa­tio on the sec­ond level of the re­cently opened Wasser­man Foot­ball Cen­ter.

The of­fense manned one field and the de­fense the other. De­fen­sive play­ers com­pleted a walk-through af­ter lin­ing up op­po­site black trash cans that dou­bled as of­fen­sive line­men. De­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Tom Bradley didn’t like what he saw dur­ing one drill early in the ses­sion. “Run it again! Run it again!” Bradley yelled. “Come on, let’s go!”

Nearby, lineback­ers coach Scott White in­structed play­ers to wrap up a ball­car­rier with their right arm and rip the ball out with their left arm. “You’ve got to have a tremen­dous amount of en­ergy to get the ball!” White barked.

The en­ergy level ap­peared high across the board. De­fen­sive line­men chased a bounc­ing ball rolled sev­eral yards in front of them, pounc­ing on the tar­get with their mas­sive bod­ies. Fresh­man de­fen­sive end Jae­lan Phillips sang along to Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow” dur­ing a break and later stood along­side fel­low de­fen­sive end Rick Wade, both play­ers pan­tomim­ing a gui­tarist’s wind­mill with such fer­vor that Pete Town­shend would have ap­proved.

The Bru­ins opened camp hav­ing al­ready cre­ated what Mora de­scribed as “a cul­ture of ac­count­abil­ity” in the wake of last sea­son’s dis­ap­point­ment. Play­ers held 25 prac­tices with­out coaches present to master the ba­sics of a new play­book and set the tone for what they ex­pect from one an­other over the next five months.

“Guys are more se­ri­ous this time,” line­backer Kenny Young said last week, “and that speaks to our mind-set go­ing for­ward.”

Mora iden­ti­fied the of­fen­sive line as his big­gest con­cern a month be­fore the sea­son opener against Texas A&M on Sept. 3 at the Rose Bowl. The ar­rival of 6-foot-8, 325-pound right tackle Sunny Odogwu, a grad­u­ate trans­fer from Mi­ami, solves mul­ti­ple is­sues be­cause it gives the Bru­ins an­other ex­pe­ri­enced line­man while al­low­ing An­dre James and Kenny Lacy to switch back to guard af­ter play­ing tackle last sea­son and in the spring.

James and Lacy are bat­tling Na­jee To­ran for the two guard spots along­side pro­jected starters Odogwu, left tackle Kolton Miller and cen­ter Scott Quessen­berry. De­vel­op­ing qual­ity back­ups will be es­sen­tial in­sur­ance against in­juries; Miller missed the fi­nal seven games last sea­son with a foot in­jury, and his re­place­ments strug­gled to pro­tect quar­ter­back Josh Rosen or open holes for one of the na­tion’s worst rush­ing at­tacks.

Rosen’s ab­sence for half of last sea­son af­ter sus­tain­ing a shoul­der in­jury also high­lighted the need for a skilled backup quar­ter­back. The Bru­ins are groom­ing a young cast of re­serves, with red­shirt fresh­men Devon Mod­ster and Matt Lynch bat­tling true fresh­man Austin Bur­ton to be anointed the No. 2 quar­ter­back. Mod­ster ap­peared to hold a slight edge over his coun­ter­parts af­ter the end of spring prac­tice.

UCLA’s de­fense is widely ex­pected to be a strength even with a hand­ful of play­ers hav­ing de­parted for the NFL. The se­condary ap­pears to be loaded with play­mak­ers, in­clud­ing safety Adar­ius Pick­ett and cor­ner­back Nate Meadors, and Phillips showed in the spring he might be a sack-happy re­place­ment for Takkarist McKin­ley.

Mora re­cently said he liked the di­rec­tion his play­ers were headed as they at­tempt to re­bound from what was eas­ily the worst of his first five years in West­wood.

“Ev­ery­body’s re­ally taken own­er­ship for where we went and where we want to get,” Mora said. “The cul­ture’s dif­fer­ent, the way they talk to each other’s dif­fer­ent, the things we’re em­pha­siz­ing are a lit­tle dif­fer­ent and our play­ers have com­pletely em­braced it and so that gives you a sense of en­thu­si­asm.”

The ob­jec­tive over the next month is slow and steady im­prove­ment, small changes lead­ing to big things.

“Every day, we’re go­ing to come out here and just try to get a lit­tle bit bet­ter,” Mora said. “It doesn’t mat­ter if it’s our quar­ter­back or the 105th guy on the ros­ter; the goal is to come out here every day and show im­prove­ment.”

Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

Pho­to­graphs by Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

UCLA OPENED train­ing camp with play­ers stretch­ing out on one of the two ar­ti­fi­cial turf fields at the new $75-mil­lion Wasser­man Foot­ball Cen­ter on cam­pus.

COACH JIM MORA’S of­fice at the Wasser­man Cen­ter of­fers a good view of the action be­low.

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