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Spaulding Report: UCLA Spring Football - Backup QBs, Spring Standouts, and Polamalu's RBs

The Bruins held practice number 9 at Spaulding on Wednesday evening and the beat writers continued their excellent coverage of U.C.L.A. spring football.

CB Fabian Moreau has been blanketing receivers this spring.
CB Fabian Moreau has been blanketing receivers this spring.
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

We've cobbled together some additional notes on Wednesday's practice, which was the ninth of the spring camp, so let's take a look.

First off is The Cover Two Recap, courtesy of Ed Lewis from Bruins Sports Report and Ryan Kartje from the OC Register. The two have been doing a great job individually of covering the Bruin practices (and it's great to see Kartje has brought professional coverage of U.C.L.A. Football back to the OC Register), but their post practice vlog offers a much more detailed insight into what is happening at practice and in the big picture with the football team.  Their videos get posted on their respective sites first, so keep your eyes there if you want to see them before they go on youtube.  It's a must watch.

video from BSR TV via You Tube

The Bruins practiced on Wednesday without pads, and part of that may have been due to the litany of injuries the Bruins have suffered in the last couple weeks as N detailed in his post this evening.  Fortunately, none of them have been too severe and a few Bruins are already getting back on the field after missing some days, too.

Since Spaulding was a no hitting zone on Wednesday, the quarterbacks had a better chance to showcase their arms. Even though Mora said on Monday that he doesn't intend to try to separate the QBs until after spring ball is done, that doesn't mean we can't or won't.  Lewis and Kartje agree with what we all assume that Asiantii Woulard is the front runner for the backup QB spot, but they point out that that's based on his huge upside, and that Jerry Neuheisel actually looks more polished right now. Lewis even felt that Mike Fafaul had the best day of the three today.  So while the job is technically up in the air, as we know the coaching staff won't be shy to play anyone who can do the job, it certainly sounds promising that the Bruins have a trio of capable backups - for 4th quarter mop up duties in the fall.  It's a nice change from the days not so long ago when the Bruins had trouble picking even a starter at QB.

Kartje said his two standout of the day were LB Isaako Savaiinaea and CB Fabian Moreau. Savaiinaea (and I sincerely love typing that name) sounds like he is moving well after a recent shoulder injury caused him to miss a couple practices, and Kartje said he looked like Eric Kendricks in the way he covered the field and made tackles today. Moreau's name has come up from everyone watching spring practice and he looks to have emerged as the Bruins best cover guy.  Kartje called him a shut down corner and Lewis noted he had 6 or 7 pass break ups and an interception today.

Lewis called LB Zach Whitley one of his players of the day.  After a few days working in at Anthony Barr's old OLB spot, today Whitely was back at ILB and showed the skills that had people raving about him even before camp began.  The heel injury he suffered on Monday flared partway through the session and he rested through the end of practice.  The other top performer was a big (literally) name, Ellis McCarthy.   The big man was unstoppable on the line today, using his swim move to beat everyone he faced on the OL including Najee Toran, Scott Quessenberry, Carl Hulick, and Jake Brendel.  So it's good he wasn't picking on just one poor OL.  McCarthy, along with Kenneth Clark, Eddie Vanderdoes, and Kylie Fitts, are going to make an impressive interior DL this year and they should be very interesting to watch in the weeks ahead.

The running backs have also been an interesting group to follow this spring. Jordon James and Paul Perkins got the bulk of the carries last year, Steven Manfro remains that great change of pace guy, and the staff looks to be pushing Craig Lee hard to join the fray.  Oh, and there's a linebacker who can carry the ball a bit if needed.  That group (minus the LB, who hasn't been seen on offense lately) is looking a lot tougher this spring.  Our friend Chris Foster at the LAT looked at the unit and it sounds like even the coaches are saying that new RB coach Kennedy Polamalu should get the credit.

"Every time you get a new coach, they bring their own style," said Jim Mora, UCLA's head coach. "I think our running backs are playing with a certain degree of violence right now that I really enjoy watching."

"You start with his reputation and the guys he has coached," Mora said. "I knew he was one hell of a coach. His focus on fundamentals and attention to detail are fantastic. He puts them in the position they will find themselves in during games."

Hundley will always be a threat to run, and he might even again lead UCLA in rushing. "If it gets victories," Polamalu said, that will be acceptable.

But it also seems that the Bruins are intent about gaining rushing yardage a little more traditionally, with the running backs delivering blows instead of just taking them along the way.

"Those guys are becoming more explosive with the ball in their hands instead of dancing around," offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. "They're getting a little attitude. That comes from K.P."

I like that.

Mazzone was careful not to make any comparisons between Polamalu and the Bruins' former RB coach Steve Broussard, but it's clear that there is a different focus on fundamentals and aggression from our running back corps.

Kartje also had a very nice article and interview with Y receiver Thomas Duarte today.  His is another name that we keep hearing over and over.  We saw promise all over him last season and he is coming into his own right now.

This spring has been yet another step in that lightning-fast progression, as Duarte has put on a show, getting open at a high clip and pulling down nearly every ball in his vicinity. Coaches have marveled at his progress. Brett Hundley, UCLA's quarterback, is already looking his way more often.

"I'm a whole different player now," Duarte said. "I'm bigger, faster, stronger. My knowledge of the game is better."


Through nine practices, no one has been open more often than Duarte, At 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, he looks poised to become the freakish mismatch that UCLA has been searching for in the slot.

"The way he runs, he's deceptively fast," Hundley said. "He can get away from a defensive back. He can out jump them. He's tall, and he has long arms, too."

Mossi Johnson has been getting a lot of praise for his performance at the Y this spring, so the Bruins look to have at least two great weapons in the slot for Hundley this year.  Duarte notes he has grown over half an inch from last season and put on some more weight, and he is modeling his game after some of the top big receivers in college and the NFL.  You can see all of Duarte's interview in the video below.  Oh by the way, here's yet another insightful and well spoken player.  It only takes a few minutes to know they are Bruins...

video from OC Register via YouTube

Extra thanks to Ed Lewis and Ryan Kartje for all the great content today.  The Bruins next practice is on Thursday afternoon at 4:30pm.  The practice will be at Spaulding and will be open and free to the public.  We'll do a recap tomorrow evening, and if you make it out there, please share your observations and thoughts here on BN.