Practice #4 of the preseason just finished a bit ago (and we got a ton of great observations from impaulv and uclaluv who were out there), and the Bruins will be back on the field for practice #5 this evening at 6pm. So while the team is catching its breath and resting between its first set of two-a-days, let's look back at Friday's practice. The Bruin fans who made it out there did another great job and you can read the comments from the open thread for that practice here.
Right off the bat, Coach Mora started out his post practice interview (you can see the whole video at the bottom of this article) with some praise for the team, noting that Wednesday's practice was one of the best he's seen at U.C.L.A., and he was curious to see how the team would respond following the big effort. Good news:
I was curious to see how they'd come out today after yesterdays' practice where the tempo was just one of our better practices we've had since I've been here probably and they came out today and matched it and probably did a little bit better, so that's encouraging.
One of the things we will be watching closely this year is whether the Bruins can take that next step in maturity and become a consistently excellent team. They showed last year that they have the ability to reach great heights. The next step in that development is to maintain that high level from practice to practice and game to game. Of course, that's the goal for every athlete from professionals right down to youth sports. I am hopeful that the players and coaches learned from experiences like Cal and Baylor last season and have identified how to avoid those lapses. Granted, it is still early in practice and things are fresh, but it is good to see the team reaching a high point like Wednesday, and then stepping up even more the next time out.
The Bruins continue to move players around to different positions and depth spots on both offense and defense. Mora mentioned that Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh will see some looks on short yardage and goal line offensive sets, and that Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone is begging to get Myles Jack some carries out of the backfield.Nate Iese has moved permanently to Y and Jack Wang did a nice video interview with him.
Kenny Orjioke and Aaron Wallace were rotating in with the first team defense at outside linebacker, and Isaac Savaaiinaea was seeing time with the first team defensive line. Caleb Benenoch was playing right guard with the first team offense. We know the staff isn't afraid to move players around to try to find the best fit, and that appears to be the motivation right now. Mora was quick to point out that nothing is set with these moves.
We move guys all over....We're just keep moving guys around. I wouldn't read anything into it at any point in time...We're just gonna move guys around and see who fits where. There are very few positions, although there are a few, that are pretty well set in stone, and then the rest we want competition.
Mora then got effusive when pressed about Kenny Orjioke specifically
First of all the transformation in his body since he got here. He was 215 pounds or 212, and now he's about 6'4 and 240 and just fast and quick and explosive and very athletic and has really developed at that position in terms of his knowledge of the game. He's a kid who hasn't played a ton of football but that outside linebacker position looks very natural to him. But you know, he hasn't played any games there, Aaron's got a little more experience there, so we just want to create competition there.
Mora talked quite a bit about the ideal player type for the OLB position, noting that Barr is a pretty good example, and that getting the opposite OLB to look and play like Barr would be ok with him. To me, that "other" OLB position is really key on this defense. You gotta believe that opposing offensive coordinators are going to devote a lot of time to dealing with Anthony Barr. Either they are just going to go away from Barr or they are going to double him, so either Orjioke or Wallace are going to get a lot of action coming at them or they are going to get a lot of opportunity to make plays from the back side.
The defensive backfield remains a topic in terms of personnel and development. Mora noted that he has been a defensive backs coach his entire career and while the unit lacks experience, he is happy with the talent and bodies he has available. Anthony Jefferson is seeing time at both safety and corner. Mora was adamant about Priest Willis being a corner and says he has no intention of moving him to safety. Jalen Ortiz is getting time in the secondary, too, but is still primarily considered a receiver for now. Mora was asked about the leadership role that Jefferson appears to have taken with the unit.
You like to see that. I think that kinda has permeated our whole team is the older guys grabbing ahold of the younger guys and helping them out. That's great to see. It's kind of a different concept for me to observe because in the National Football League you don't see a lot of that because that new guy is trying to take that old guy's job. And here because they're all part of the same University and there's natural attrition just because of your graduates you see a little bit tighter bond, I think, and it's fun to see that.
We all recall the defensive backfield was a weakness on last year's team, but I think that had more to do with the skill sets of the players back there. I agree that the talent pool looks better going forward, so it will be up to the coaching staff to get these players developed and playing together within the scheme quickly.
Another position that isn't settled is punter, and freshman Sean Covington booted his first punts of the preseason on Friday, though Mora didn't give the rookie kicker much slack.
I didn't even know which one he was. I gotta figure out his number (insert evil Mora smirk here). The ball comes off his foot nicely. The key with Sean is his operation time. When you go from Jeff (Locke) and Kevin, the snapper, Kevin McDermott, they were so efficient from snap to kick. And so what we have to work on now, depending on who our snapper is, and then with Sean it's just that operation time, that's just so critical, but he's got an excellent leg.
Jack Wang from InsideUCLA wrote a nice piece about Covington and his challenge of replacing a punter who was so good that he was drafted in the 5th round (when being drafted as a punter at all is rare)
Early in Friday's afternoon practice, Sean Covington launched his first punts wearing a UCLA jersey.
There was one that arced high and back, landing some 60 yards away. Another swung short and hooked left. He's still a freshman, after all.
Locke may be the most difficult player to replace for the Bruins, who are trying to better a 9-5 record amidst higher expectations and a tougher schedule. That Covington worked with Locke earlier this summer is a good start. The freshman said the two, roughly 90-minute sessions at UCLA were very productive. For one, they share a dominant foot.
"You don't see many lefties," Covington said. "That was a lot, just seeing his form and his steps and just how he drops. You can critique what you do and what you're not doing, what you need to work on."
Wang included some video of a few of Covington's punts that you can see below. The first is a bomb. Kick them all that way, kid!
Our friend Chris Foster at the LA Times was writing on Covington yesterday, too.
"The first time I saw him I thought, ‘Man this kid is extremely talented," said UCLA assistant coach Jeff Ulbrich, who handles special teams.
He better be.
Covington has to replace Jeff Locke, one of the nation's top punters the past four years. Locke was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. Before leaving for the NFL, Locke spent time tutoring Covington this summer.
"He helped me a lot with my form and muscle memory," Covington said.
No one is expecting him to be Locke.
Said Ulbrich: "Sean's a true freshman. That's telling, isn't it?"
Covington is also receiving helpful advice from kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn, who was also thrown in as a true freshman last fall.
"What a great resource for him," Ulbrich said. "Ka'imi went through it last year and it is still fresh to him."
I don't know if its a good thing or not that the punter is getting so much ink in the first week of fall camp. Ka'imi undoubtedly will have a lot of thoughts on the subject for Covington.
On the injury front. Mora noted that Thomas Duarte had some cramps and that Eddie Vanderdoes was limited by some ongoing back tightness that they want to let rest. Eric Kendricks is still recovering from ankle surgery and has not practiced yet. In general, the roster is in good shape, but we should probably expect that to change some when the players put on pads and start hitting today.
You can watch all of Coach Mora's post practice interview below, courtesy of Edward Lewis and BSR TV via YouTube.
As mentioned above, the Bruins will be back on the field this evening at 6pm for practice. So while the Bruins go with two-a-days, Bruins Nation will, too. We'll bump the Day 4 practice thread back up to the front this evening for folks who are at practice to add their thoughts, and then we'll have a pair of practices to recap tomorrow. We're working hard here, too!