So i was fortunate enough to make my way out to Spaulding Field for practice today. Before I get into the action on the field, I'd like to take a moment to share a story about UCLA.
In tow with me as I went to practice today was my cousin, who lives up north and is currently deciding which college to go to/apply to. Prior to practice, we walked the campus a bit and I showed him how great of a place Westwood is. I went down to Spaulding to watch practice and he continued to walk the campus. About an hour into practice, my cousin showed up and the first thing he said was, "I HAVE to go here." UCLA/Westwood works its magic yet again.
So turning back to football, it was a good day at Spaulding Field. While the players have yet to get into pads and hitting, it was good to see the guys back on the field again ad especially, how good their feet are. So with that said, let's take a look at what I saw today.
Size- As I mentioned, they haven't put full pads on yet or done any hitting, but just seeing the team walking around, you could tell the offseason training program has paid off. Without getting into any specific players, you can just tell that the team as a whole is a whole lot bigger. While the players put that muscle on in different places depending on their position, they've all gotten bigger. Even freshmen like Morrell Presley and Richard Brehaut, who just enrolled this winter are bigger. Hats off to Mike Linn on a great job and all the players for the commitment they put in this offseason.
Kevin Prince- He threw some pretty good passes and moved around pretty well, but it was his maturation mentally and as a leader since the spring that impressed me most. He was a little skittish in the pocket during the spring and was still getting a grip on the offense. He also took command of the offense in the spring, but only as the quarterback. He is now comfortable in the pocket and is not just the quarterback, but the leader. When the offense gets in the huddle, nobody else is talking and there's no confusion. When a player gets out of the huddle and isn't sure where to go, he don't ask the player next to them. He asks Prince. As President of the Kevin Prince Fan Club, I endorse his play and this message.
Aaron Hester- I went to a good chunk of the spring practices so I saw plenty of Hester and I was plenty impressed so I don't know why I'm surprised at him now, but I am. I forgot just how long he was, allowing him to get his hands on so many passes. He also has make up speed and the swagger needed to play alone on the perimeter. It is almost as if Hester plays angry, but he channels it well and can be absolute dynamite for us. He's going to have some growing pains against some of the more experienced receivers, but he has the raw ability to dominate at the Rose Bowl and even play on Sundays. On this day he put a good lick on Presley and knocked the ball loose, allowing Rahim Moore to grab it for a pick.
Freshman Receivers- I'm going to throw Presley into this one along with Randall Carroll and Ricky Marvray. All three of them are extremely promising with great talent, but that we already knew. What we didn't know and is becoming more apparent is how polished they are for freshmen. They're also very open to instruction, even seeking it out. Even when they do well, they go back to their coaches at times and ask questions about what they did or could be doing better. Marvray ran some great routes and showed a willingness to go over the middle, although we'll see if that holds up when the hitting begins. Presley is a walking match up problem and was much better at using his hands to get off the line against linebackers. Carroll still needs to improve his route running, but his speed gave DB's fits and he has better hands than advertised.
Eddie Williams- This is admittedly unfair because Brian Price is a beast, but Williams, who lined up at right guard, was destroyed by big #92 time and time again. Williams had no problem dealing with anybody else, but he spent most of his time on Price and it didn't go well. The good thing is that Williams should be that much better come September 5 from going up against Price every day in practice. Williams also has a mean streak, which our big uglies could sure use.
Special Teams- The special teams were a bit shaky today. Danny Rees, a back up punter was doing the holding and the timing with he and Kai Forbath was a bit off. This early in camp it is not unusual for special teams to struggle, but they still were not strong today.
Running Backs Receiving- As is the case in any Norm Chow offense, the UCLA running backs are featured heavily in the passing game and they struggled some today. Their hands were fine, but their routes were off for the most part, which made it tough to get in sync with Prince or to turn upfield once they got the ball. They did show good hands though so if they can iron out their route running issues they can be a threat.
Linebackers- These guys will be plenty fine this year, but our linebacker depth is awfully concerning and will be a problem in the future. The gap between the first string and the second, third and fourth strings is startling. During the individual drills, Chuck Bullough was in the ear of the backup linebackers at all times. We're going to need some guys to develop quickly and some new guys to come into the program at the position. There just isn't nearly enough depth there right now.
The Battle To Start At Safety- Tony Dye and Glen Love both were shaky today and neither impressed as they vie to be the Bruins' starting safety. Dye has the better physical skills and can be a good player, but he struggles to put himself in the correct positions in coverage and doesn't take good angles at ball carriers. Love is big, but doesn't range as well sideline to sideline and isn't as much of a force in the hole for a guy his size. He needs to do a better job getting lower. With Hester and Alterraun Verner outside and Moore at one safety, the defensive backfield should be stout, but th second safety spot could be a weak spot if neither player steps up.