Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 8/15/12
As it is virtually impossible to replace a player of Patrick Larimore's importance both on and off the field, UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora has been getting a look at several alternatives while preaching a message of communication and assertiveness. Larimore, a senior linebacker who suffered his second concussion since the beginning of spring practices during a drill last week that did not include full pads, has retired from playing but will return to the team at some point as a clubhouse leader and, if all goes well, as an inspiration to the players around him. He was a team captain and defensive most valuable player while leading the team with 81 tackles in 2011. "We're going to miss him," Mora said. "I probably can't say it any better than I said it yesterday the guy is just the heart and soul of this team." In terms of re-arranging personnel, redshirt senior Damien Holmes will be shifted from outside to inside linebacker following a spring in which he had already moved to linebacker from defensive end, where he had logged 39 games and 20 starts over the past three seasons. Holmes, listed between 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-4 and between 250 and 260 pounds, had already received several looks as an inside linebacker during spring practice. "It's a similar thing with training camp. It's something that I'm comfortable with," he said. Eric Kendricks, who has also has moved from the outside, will line up alongside Holmes as an inside linebacker. He has been held out of practice since late last week with a sore hamstring, as reported by Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times, but should emerge as a reliable member of new defensive coordinator Lou Spanos' 3-4 defense. Junior Jordan Zumwalt will remain as an outside linebacker as part of a unit that will need to improve a run defense that ranked 96th nationally and 11th in the Pac-12 last year and will not have the fortune of returning its on-field and emotional leader in Larimore. In one of his messages to his linebacking core during camp, Mora has imparted the importance of communication to a group in which Holmes is the lone senior expected to be a part of the rotation. "Those guys are the middle of the defense," Mora said. "They're the core of your defense, and their communication goes forward and it goes backwards. They've got to be on the same page. They've got to set the front. They've got to communicate the coverages. They've got to communicate all the adjustments, and so they really have to do a tremendous job of being on the same page and making calls, making them, decisively, making them emphatically, making them so everybody can hear." He's also counting on Larimore to provide his own verbal encouragement, even if he won't be able to put on his pads and contribute on the field. "I think that defensively we've got a good nucleus of guys that have leadership ability, and we'll miss Patrick, but Patrick will fill that void a little bit too when he comes back," Mora said. "He will. If he's in the meeting, or if he's on the field during practice, or if he's on the sidelines during a game, there's still going to be a level of accountability to who he is and what he represents. I think that'll be felt amongst our team." It will hopefully replace the absence left by one of the team's most vocal and character leaders. "On the field is one thing, but from a leadership standpoint, that's a hard void to fill. I see a guy like Damien Holmes, who's been around here a while, and is one of our harder workers. The players really respect him. I see him being a guy that partially fills that void," Mora said of the team's vocal leadership. "I think a guy like Tevin McDonald, Andrew Abbott, they partially fill that void. The one thing we don't want any of those guys to be is something that they're not. They have to do it their own way. They're not going to be Patrick, and we don't want them to try to be Patrick. They have to be genuine." It's something that comes naturally for Holmes. "It doesn't really change," he said of his vocal assertiveness. "I like to think that I've been vocal, even with Larimore," Holmes said. "The thing about our defense is that so many guys are talking. It's not necessarily one. Yes, Mike is going to give the call. But everyone's talking. Everyone's got to be vocal. So I think as long as you just keep that up, it'll be fine."
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