Spaulding Roundup - An Open Competition Under Center


Coach Mora's post-practice presser. (via UCLA's YouTube Channel)

Yesterday saw the second round of UCLA Football's Spring Practice, and befitting the early stage of these sessions and of the regime of Jim Mora, there is not much concrete to take away re where players stand on the depth chart. However, the attitude in practice seems to have taken a more aggressive and focused turn as compared to the past few years, as told by Jon Gold in his post-practice report.

If two days are any indication, the attitude of the UCLA football team is changing, from the top on down. There have been more dives, more dust-ups and scrums than I can remember at any spring practice in three years, and it doesn't appear that the players are getting coaxed into it.

As well, he notes the relative youth of the new assistants and their willingness to get involved in drills with their players.

The open competition at Quarterback has grabbed much of the print media's attention over the first couple of days. While looking at the longer run, it is safe to say that not everybody on the field is going to have a strong shot at being under center in the Thursday night opener at Rice on August 30th - Mike Fafaul and Jerry Neuheisel are the longest of shots, while the true freshman TJ Milweard has to grasp the speed of the college game as well as learn the offense - Coach Mora and Noel Mazzone do want an open competition for the spot. Unlike last fall's "open competition" between Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, the coaches have given all of the QB's a fair number of reps at this early stage, and hope to keep it that way at least through the first couple weeks of practice. In terms of which player is participating in which order, the key to date is not the perception of where he is going to shake out by the end of summer, but simply getting information on what they can do.

"I grabbed [Prince] and threw him in there first because he was our starting quarterback, but it's a wide-open deal," Mazzone said. "After that, I just kind of turned around. They learned real quick that I turn around and the guy I see first I put in next. So they're all right there behind me."

... [Mora] never has seen any of these quarterbacks play live before this week and would like to build a database of information before he even starts to try and make any kind of decisions.

A couple of guys working through position changes impressed during Thursday's practice. Dalton Hilliard, making the move from defensive back to running back, showed some good moves and has Coach Broussard looking forward to getting him more reps, thinking back to his failed recruitment of Dalton while coaching at WSU. Darius Bell has been making the transition from quarterback to receiver over the past few months, and has looked pretty good.

He told me after practice he's lost 27 pounds in the course of a year, and it's showing. He has really good balance and physicality - twice he ripped the ball from a defender for the catch.

In his post-practice presser, Coach Mora noted Darius's performance - not that he is surprised, but is pleased from what he has seen this week. That Bell looks like a natural at the position. More practice observations on individual players over at Gold's place. Sadly, the traditional injury bug has hit at Spaulding - after a strong practice, Joe Fauria pulled a hamstring and is likely day to day while Ricky Marvray briefly left practice with a sore back. Greg Capella and Brandon Tuliapupu suffered minor injuries.

In extended news, Jon Gold has a nice read on XSF and his return to football from a religious mission, while Baxter Holmes has a feature in the LA Times on Jerry Neuheisel and how he is fitting into the program. Gold also noted that several recruits were at practice yesterday afternoon - Hatari Byrd, Tee Sheppard, Nico Falah and Joe Mathis.

The Bruins will return to Spaulding Field for the third of their fifteen permitted practice sessions on Saturday at 9:30am. Per the LA Times, the team will be in full pads on Saturday morning.

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