Coach Mora's post-practice media session (via UCLA's YouTube channel)
Thursday's practice marked the halfway point of Coach Mora's first spring practice in charge of UCLA Football. After two and a half weeks, the tone of the practices are moving away from setting the quick pace and tempo which the team has lacked in recent years. I suppose one question arising from that is whether the early work has had the right effect on the team, or whether - despite the available roster giving Mora more players than he ever dreamed of having in the NFL - he and his staff are concerned with keeping enough players healthy through the next couple of weeks.
News on the injury front keeps coming in, as yet another Bruin has seen his season end on Spaulding Field before it can even begin. During Tuesday's practice, Librado Barocio went down with a knee injury. After yesterday's practice, Coach Mora shared the bad news.
UCLA reserve cornerback Librado Barocio has a torn anterior cruciate ligament and will be out indefinitely, coach Jim Mora said Thursday.
Barocio, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound sophomore walk-on, injured his knee Tuesday during practice when his planted his foot during a coverage drill. He tried to get up and walk it off, but immediately slumped back to the ground. He will have surgery to repair the knee as soon as the swelling goes down.
I don't know what it is - bad luck, a poor quality practice surface, or that a few years from now we will find out that Spaulding was built on top of a native american burial ground - but the field had claimed its share of victims. While Librado may not be as critical to the team as Ben Olson and Pat Cowen were in the year they went down, he has been an exceptionally hard worker and positive influence on his teammates, as Jon Gold noted in his post-practice piece.
Aside from that unfortunate news, the story from Thursday was a bit mixed.There is still not much to say about the quarterbacking race. The guys seems to be throwing the ball well, but not without errors. Solid play, but none of the players have really separated themselves from the rest of their peers. In his post-practice presser, he noted the high level at which the defensive front-seven was practicing as a factor in the QB's not showing their best. Good for the defense, but not a positive starting point for the O-line. The modified scrimmage on Saturday may give opportunity for someone to move forward. As for the highlight of the day...
The throw of the day was a gorgeous pass from Brett Hundley with perfect timing to a diving Steven Manfro. Hundley threw the pass right as Manfro made his cut, something he struggled with last season.
Manfro has been getting a lot of attention lately, from the media and Coach Mora. Peter Yoon is the latest to write on his emergence in the past couple of weeks, along with the near-total lack of recruiting attention that he received, the skepticism that followed him to UCLA and the work that he has put in since coming to Westwood.
"I’m trying to prove to people that I could play on this level," he said. "Whoever doubted me, I am a D-1 player and I can show them."
Running backs coach Steve Broussard, one of the top recruiters at Arizona State the past couple of years, said he caught wind of Manfro after Manfro had already committed to UCLA. He didn't know what to expect from the freshman because of all the stories touting him as overrated, but once he laid eyes on Manfro on the practice field, Broussard said that if anything, Manfro is underrated.
"Looking at the things that he’s doing out here, you would think he would have had more offers," Broussard said. "But sometimes kids get missed and somebody this special is somebody’s diamond. I’m glad I’m here and I get to coach him."
As Coach Broussard noted, sometimes guys just get overlooked in the recruiting game. For that matter, anyone who has watched a Boise State game in the past few years (or on the other side of the equation, a UCLA game during the last couple of seasons) knows that recruiting rankings do not always tell the story of how a recruiting class, or any particular player will turn out. Obviously there is a long way to go before we can make any judgment on Manfro - playing in a game or two would be a start - but he looks to be off to a good start.
Jon Gold also wrote a story focusing on the effect that the change in defensive scheme and attitude that Demetrice Martin has brought to Westwood has had on Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price.
"This was our plan from the get-go," Martin said. "They bought right in. I haven't seen the other way, so it's hard for me to say the light has switched on for them. From day one, since we started implementing the defense, these guys have had that natural body language, the attitude you want bump-and-run corners to have."In a word, swagger, something that has been sorely missing from the duo for quite a while.
Hampered by the passive style of the previous regime, which often called for the cornerbacks to be 8-10 yards off the ball, Price and Hester felt stifled, unnatural. Worse, they felt...quiet. These are cornerbacks to the purest level, chatty, feisty, fiery. Unable to jam, they were unable to jabber, losing their edge. The swagger, gone.
The Bruins will practice again on Saturday at 1pm on Spaulding Field. Just as a reminder, all of the scheduled practice sessions this Spring are open to the public. The team will be running a modified scrimmage.