Coach Mora talking with the media after Tuesday's practice - via UCLA's YouTube Channel
It has been just over 3 months since we last saw the UCLA Football team in action, falling to Illinois at a converted baseball park on New Year's Eve. Now, after the winter of our discontent and a change in the program's on-field leadership, the team returned to the practice field for the first time yesterday afternoon. This was the first of fifteen practice sessions which will run over the next five weeks, concluding with the Spring Game at the Rose Bowl on May 5th.
It seemed that the key objective of yesterday's practice was to get the players used to the pace of practice - the tempo - that Coach Mora and his staff demand from their players. There were drills to be sure (though not as many individual drills as in past years), but as important was getting the team used to being active during the entirety of practice, of exerting full effort during activities, drills and conditioning, but also working between drills and running from station to station. It is a positive effort to maximize the limited time that his players are on the practice field - a consideration that he did not have to worry about during his NFL coaching career - but also getting the players used to working in hurry-up situations in the normal course of business as well as simply one way to effect culture change among the players and inside the program. Peter Yoon got reactions from Richard Brehaut and Kevin Prince on the change in attitude.
"He's big time into tempo," quarterback Kevin Prince said of Mora. "He wants practice firing on all cylinders and sprinting to the next drill and no laziness whatsoever. He's really focused on creating and different attitude and a different mentality here at UCLA so I think today was a step forward in that direction. Obviously we have a long way to go but things are going to change."
... "I loved it," quarterback Richard Brehaut said. "Everything is different. The coaches are different, the offense is different the tempo is different. Like everyone says, we're trying to change the culture around here and we started that process today."
According to BN'ers who were at practice as well as Jon Gold, all of the quarterbacks got reps on Tuesday. There was not any specifically intense drills or workouts for the signal callers, but they were constantly active. As Yoon put it in his ESPNLA spring practice article:
The quarterbacks, who are involved in a competition for the starting spot, were much more active in practice. They were active the entire practice, breaking away for individual drills only sporadically and never getting the down time they had gotten in the past.
"We're part of everything pretty much," Brehaut said. "We're never taking a knee or talking."
Of course, yesterday was about far more than the QB's. Xavier Su'a Filo was back in a Bruin uniform for the first time in two years, lining up at left tackle with the first-team O-line. Bruce Feldman was at practice and was impressed by XSF. He may still have some weight room work to do, and Gold noted that he was pretty banged up by the end of the afternoon, but for someone that is returning to football after two years, that's not bad. On the individual player level, Feldman also had good things to say about Devin Lucien. Gold saw good initial signs from Devin and Shaq Evans, but also noted Darius Bell's nice hands in his first day at the Y position.
But as much as we want to see and hear how the players are performing for the new regime, there is little that can be gathered from one practice session. The changes in practice itself are among the things that we can start looking at. As noted above, Brehaut and Prince get the difference. As far as the particulars of how practice unfolded, uclaluv shared his observations in yesterday's open thread.
Practice started by running some plays, including passes. Then even the warming up seemed more alive and competitive. ... They were going at top speed with little down time, so the few drops seemed more from being spent than anything else and weren't made by the main receivers (unlike in years past). The running backs did some drills in front of us and they were doing a lot of different things. In the past, they'd only run through an obstacle course with someone trying to hit the ball out at a regular pace. They were going side ways, front while being bashed from different sides, facing off, many more looks. They were getting tired.
After practice, Coach Mazzone talked about the tempo, while Coach Mora shared his thoughts on how the team did on day one.
"It was OK. I thought it got better as the practice went on. I thought the second team period was a lot better than the first team period. I think Thursday it'll be a much different practice. They'll understand how we want to operate and how we want them to move from drill to drill."
About the only time practice stopped was when Mora brought the team together to tell them they weren't running hard or fast enough between drills. Even during team sessions, the team ignored broken plays or mistakes and went right on to the next play. Some of the coaching took place in a later period and most will take place in the film room.
As noted by Jon Gold on the Daily News blog just before the start of practice (ht: 4everBruin), Wesley Flowers has been reinstated to the football team and did participate in practice. On the injury front, Connor Bradford, Luke Gane, Todd Golper, Will Oliver and Dietrich Riley will miss spring practice, while Alex Mascarenas and Wade Yandall will be limited to non-contact drills.
The Bruins will return to Spaulding Field on Thursday afternoon at 3:45pm, for the second of their fifteen Spring practice sessions.