The UCLA Bruins enter the 2014 season with sky-high expectations thanks to the return of quarterback Brett Hundley and a young nucleus of talent on both sides of the ball rounding into peak form. Jim Mora has his team focused on achieving great things this fall but will need some of his experienced leaders to step up and take the reins on the field. Defensively, that puts Eric Kendricks into the spotlight where he should continue to shine this season.
Kendricks has been a tackling machine for the Bruins over the last three years and a major presence in the middle of their defense. As a freshman in 2011, Kendricks finished second on the team with 76 tackles. He followed that up in 2012 by leading the team and the entire Pac-12 with 149 tackles as he helped UCLA make a second-straight Pac-12 title game appearance. Last season, he once again led the team, though he finished third in the conference, with another 105 tackles, including four tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception and a blocked kick.
The senior has been a consistent presence on the UCLA defense who has gone largely overlooked because of the exploits of Anthony Barr the last two years coming off the edge. Even with Barr now gone to the NFL, UCLA has some flashy talent on the edges, like two-way star sophomore Myles Jack, that could continue to overshadow Kendrick’s efforts. But don’t let the lack of premium stats fool you. Kendricks is the best defensive player on the UCLA roster.
His ability to make plays sideline to sideline (even if they aren’t in the backfield all that often) allow the Bruins to be aggressive with their athletic otuside backers in getting after the quarterback. He’s a veteran leader who steps up every game and down what he needs to do by holding down the middle of the UCLA defense. As UCLA looks to regain the Pac-12 South Division title in 2014, look for Kendricks to be leading the charge on defense.