Are you ready for some Bruin football??
The Bruins returned to Spaulding field this morning for their first practice of the spring season. There was plenty of news coming out today. Our own uclaluv was at practice this morning and will share some eye-witness observation a bit later. In the meantime, we can listen to Coach Mora's comments and kick of the spring football season on BN.
The post practice presser began with a discussion of some personnel issues and there was a bit of a surprise right off the bat. Mora announced that 2 year offensive tackle starter Torian White is no longer with the team. He declined to give any details as to why or when that decision was made. Chris Foster at the LAT is reporting that White is not enrolled in school for spring quarter and that sexual assault violations against him are still being investigated. The loss of White will cause an immediate jumble on the offensive line but fortunately the Bruins have a lot of depth there to fill in that spot.
In other player issues, Mora said that LB Aaron Wallace and transfer OL Malcolm Bunche are still getting some issues finalized with admissions and he expects them both to be ready for practice on Thursday. DL Eddie Vanderdoes was at practice with his leg up on a knee walker as he recovers from recent foot surgery. ILB Eric Kendricks took part in practice in a limited role but is still coming back from an ankle surgery in December. Mora pointed out it was the first practice for grayshirt WR Mossi Johnson and early enrollees DB Ron Robinson and LB Zach Whitley, both of whom have been on campus since January, and OL Najee Toran and DB Adarius Pickett, both of whom started classes yesterday. Ahh, there's nothing like spring quarter at UCLA, right? I remember a lot of "studying" at Sunset (code for watching coeds and playing volleyball). Hmmm...
Oh yeah, back to football. There were also some new faces along the sidelines for the Bruins, too. Today was the on-field debut of new RB coach Kennedy Polamalu and there are already compliments about his preparation and work with the running backs squad. The Bruins also have added a new offensive assistant Evan Burk. Burk comes from McMurry University in Texas, and he worked previously at SMU when Bruins OL Coach Adrian Klemm was there, so that connection may have helped him land his new position in Westwood.
Despite this being just Day #1 of spring ball, Mora sounded in midseason form as he discussed the teams overall readiness and the jump from spring football last season.
It was a good first day for us. I was just talking to Jake Brendel and we kinda concurred that we've taken another step up. We understand what the expectations are, what our expectations are and we're going to try to meet them everyday with the way we work and our attitude and I thought today was a good first step. Certainly, a lot of things that need to be corrected and worked on and improved and we'll get that over the course of spring. I like their attitude. I really liked their focus, their concentration, the way they came out and worked. I think it's a good start but it's only a start.
Mora was asked specifically about graduate transfer OL Malcolm Bunche and he sounded impressed.
He's just gotta get through the admission process. He's a graduate of Miami, getting into grad school here, getting the right classes, and being cleared. But he was in the meetings yesterday and was watching today and hopefully he's out here Thursday.
He's a big guy, isn't he? Did you guys see him? He's huge. He's big. Nice kid, too. Smart kid. Experienced. He'll help us a lot.
Mora noted that Bunche's experience with a big time program against big time competition will help what is still a relatively young offensive line, but then countered that but pointing out that Jake Brendel is starting his 3rd year as a starter and saying the 21 year old is "no spring chicken".
Those young guys have gotten some games under their belt. You could see immediately out there today. There was more of a comfort level out there amongst each other with their communication that wasn't there, even at the end of last year.
Mora also spoke really highly about the progress that RFr Poasi Moala made in the offseason and that he has had one of the best off season jumps in size and strength on the entire team. Per Jack Wang at InsideUCLA, Moala was starting at right tackle today with Caleb Benenoch at left tackle. Jordon James was the starter at RB today and Jordan Payton and Devin Lucien were starting at receiver.
That O line and the skill players will be key parts for our top recruit, QB Brett Hundley. Mora raved about the progress that Hundley made in the offseason.
It's only one practice but he looked fantastic today. The ball came out of his hand well, great velocity. He made all the throws. He's worked very very hard this winter - I mean, very hard...and I think we'll see it pay off. I think Brett certainly deserves to be the Heisman tophy candidate that he is. He's a great football player.
Mora noted specifically how Hundley took his development up "not just a notch but a whole bunch of notches". Hundley spent time this winter with NFL QBs. to understand their mindsets and routines. He's spent lots of time with the offensive coaches to fully understand the system, and is moving on to working with Coach Klemm to better understand protections, and with Defensive Coordinator Jeff Ulbrich and DB Coach Demetrice Martin to better understand coverages
Hundley met with the media himself after practice and you can see that interview below. Thanks to Ryan Kartje from the OC Register for sharing this on YouTube.
Mora talked about the most interesting position battles he expects this spring and singled out the outside linebacker spot left by Anthony Barr. Kenny Orjioke, Aaron Wallace, and Deon Hollins will be the top contenders to fill in that spot, and Mora added that true freshman Zach Whitley who was working at inside linebacker has the "length and explosion" that could allow him to move outside, too. Given Whitley's early comparisons to Myles Jack, that shouldn't come as a big surprise. Mora also said he was looking forward to the battle at running back, who would take over for Shaquelle Evans, and how the backup quarterback battle would go between Jerry Neuheisel and Asiantii Woulard.
I think the backup quarterback position is interesting to look at, because Jerry is not a guy that's just gonna let it go. We recognize Asiantii's potential, but he needs to perform.
Little Neu was the #2 today but Woulard's athleticism will be hard to deny. This will be very interesting to watch, and we hope to see both of them getting lots of mop up duty in the 4th quarters this season.
Another big name, in more ways than one, who returned to the field today was DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Owa missed all last year after hip surgery before the season, but looks ready to get back to terrorizing opposing offenses.
It was great to have Owa back out there today. He looked good, he looked fresh. He hasn't taken a snap since the Baylor game at any practice or any game. He's very anxious to get out there. You talk about Malcolm (Bunche) adding that veteran presence. Getting a guy like Owa back, a 5th year senior, that's a big deal for us. I don't think it can be overstated. ...
Owa is just an extremely hard worker and he takes great care of his body. He was fresh and rested and ready to go...He just got a great attitude and a great demeanor about him and he's a real positive presence on this team and we're lucky to have him back. We're really lucky to have him back. He's gonna help us.
You can see all of Mora's interview here. Thanks as always to Ed Lewis with Bruins Sports Report for the video.
From BSR TV via YouTube
Coach Mora was also talking to ESPN's Pac-12 Blog yesterday in a nice Q&A and his comments there reflected a lot of what we heard this morning. There were some other interesting notes there, however. Mora talked about one player who we haven't discussed a bunch, but who he expects we'll hear a lot about as we go forward.
Hopefully you don't hear it a lot because he's a cornerback and when you hear a cornerback's name a lot, that means he's making a lot of tackles because the ball is getting caught on him or he's giving up touchdowns. But I think we have a really fine player in Fabian Moreau. Defensive backs are where I've worked most of my career and I think this guy has some real special traits. I think he has a chance to be a great player.
Mora also talked about who he sees stepping in to fill the leadership spots opened up by the departures of some of the seniors and one particular junior.
That's the point of most uncertainty for me is -- who is going to assert themselves on the team. Four of our six team captains return, which is a real positive because they were voted captains by their teammates. You've got Brett Hundley. You've got Eric Kendricks, Jake Brendel our starting center and Ryan Hoffmeister, a linebacker and special teams guy. Xavier [Su'a-Filo] and Anthony [Barr] leaving, those are huge voids. It will be fun to see who steps up. Guys like Fabian, even though Myles Jack is only a sophomore, I think he's got some leadership qualities to him. I don't want to point too many guys out because there are a whole lot of guys on our team who are capable of stepping into that role.
We'll hopefully get some more comments on practice from uclaluv later today, and anyone else who was at practice today is encouraged to jump in here with any observations or analysis. Everyone else can chime in here with your thoughts or questions on things to watch as U.C.L.A. football gets back out on the field for the next 3 and a half weeks.