The Bruins practiced once on Monday afternoon, and Coach Mora called it a "good practice" saying the "intensity was really good" and it had been so the last couple days. He followed that by adding that he watched film from last night's scrimmage, and he was really pleased with the team's play, saying , "It was excellent. Just really good work. It was crisp."
It's certainly a good time for the Bruins to start looking sharper on the field. The focus of camp is about to change some, as Mora said that the team will begin some preparations for Rice today. Though there are still a lot of personnel decisions up in the air, the team will start game planning specifically for the opener against the Owls which is now just 9 days away. The Bruins will have two final public practices today at 8:30 am and 7 pm. After that, practices will be closed as the team prepares for the trip to the Eden that is Houston in August. I spent 4 Augusts in Houston. San Bernadino sounded balmy. Classof66 will back me up on this.
Lots of personnel news, after the jump...
With regard to some of those spots that are up in the air, Mora noted there have been no new official decisions on starters, but some of the observations from practice suggest that some positions are getting narrowed down. One current question mark has been the inside LB spot left open with Patrick Larimore's retirement. Yesterday, Miguel Melendez surprisingly reported that Dalton Hilliard was getting a lot of time with the ones. I assumed he meant Damien Holmes, but in fact, it is Dalton Hilliard who is getting lots of reps as the starting ILB. MaltBaa pointed this out yesterday, and Melendez added details today.
I had mentioned in Sunday's blog post regarding Dalton Hilliard playing inside linebacker. Some questioned whether that was an error or not. After reading those comments I started questioning myself whether I wrote down the correct player. Watching practice today and, in fact, Hilliard saw time with ther first unit at inside linebacker along with Eric Kendricks with Jordan Zumwalt and Anthony Barr at ouside linebacker. Hilliard's move to inside linebacker came on the last day of camp in San Bernardino. Also in the rotation at inside linbacker were Damien Holmes, Aaron Porter, Kenny Orjioke and Willie Green. Todd Golper did not see any action today, but figures to be in the mix.
As discussed yesterday, Hillard seems a bit undersized for ILB, at 5-11 and 205. But he is also a great athlete with a lot of speed which can be advantageous against spread offenses or in passing situations. From the LAT:
If Hilliard can handle the physical part of playing closer to scrimmage, it would give the Bruins a counter to the spread offenses they will face this season.
"I try to be quick," Hilliard said. "I have pretty good explosion. I will be able to juke the lineman and get into certain gaps."
Hilliard's size and inexperience at ILB might make him a target for opposing offensive coordinators, so Coach Spanos will need to make sure his defensive schemes aren't vulnerable to a drive full of isolation plays run right at Hilliard. He will have to rely on his quickness and ability to read to make sure he doesn't get locked up with a fullback or offensive guard. We'll keep an eye on how Hilliard grows into his new position.
There was also a lot of talk about the cornerbacks today. Seniors Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price, whom Melendez says is becoming a shut-down corner, are locked in as starters and bring really good size and experience to the position. However, experience gets pretty thin behind them. Brandon Sermons is a junior with little game time, and the promising duo of Marcos Rios and Ishmael Adams are true freshmen. They are working hard to get up to speed. From the OC Register:
Freshmen Marcus Rios and Ishmael Adams have been impressive but continue to adapt to the faster college tempo. Their upside coupled with their raw talent, however, is promising.
"There's a lot to think about," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "It's a position that takes a lot of confidence."
Hester and Price carry that swagger onto the field, from pushing off with authority to timing the receiver's routes and jumps. Even from the sideline, Rios and Adams get an opportunity to watch an established tandem like Hester and Price and try to emmulate as much as possible
Also, converted WR/RB Fabian Moreau is seeing time at the corner in practice.
Other personnel tinkering had freshman Fabian Moreau moving from offense - he was a receiver and running back - to cornerback.
For a guy who has never played the position, Moreau seemed to take to it quickly. He intercepted three passes his first two days on defense.
Moreau has been taking a crash course. "Aaron and Sheldon have been helping me with my foot work," he said.
While Mora and Spanos are cultivating some nice depth on the outside with the three freshmen, we absolutely need Hester and Price to stay healthy. Even with that concern, I really do like hearing that they are playing physical at the line of scrimmage and taking advantage of their size. The 10 yard cushions on 3rd and 4 on our last trip to Houston still make me nauseated when I think about it. As we have seen with the DL and LB, the coaches are not afraid to move players to new positions, and that includes crossing the line of scrimmage from offense to defense. It bears repeating, Mora has said that he is going to put the best players on the field.
He's had a couple good days and it's taken him a couple of days to get back in the swing of things and the last 2 days he's really made an improvement. If we can keep him healthy and keep him working he could be a guy that factors in.