Football returned to the field in Westwood this morning when the U.C.L.A. Bruins kicked off their Spring Practice sessions. The Bruins will hold 14 practices over the next 4 weeks, capping it with the Spring Showcase at Drake Stadium on April 23rd. All practices will be open to the public. You can see the spring schedule here.
There are a lot of new looks for the Bruins this spring, not the least of which are the faces covering the Bruins and who are kindly sharing their coverage with the public. The OC Register's Joey Kaufman has moved on to cover the Dodgers and Rich Hammond is currently writing about the Bruins. Jack Wang has moved on to cover the LA Rams (yeah, doesn't that sound retro?) and Thuc Nhi Nguyen will be handling football for the LA Daily News and Inside UCLA. Chris Foster left the Bruins behind for a beach lounger and a cold drink (at least that's my vision for retirement - please please please come soon!) and Lindsey Thiry will be contributing for the LA Times.
Our heroes Bruin Sports Report/Rivals' Edward Lewis and Bruin Report Online's Tracy Pierson and David Woods are all back. We are grateful for all their work on the scene so those of us in blogland can follow the action (cut and paste) and talk about personnel and coaching and tactics and strategies (arm-chair QB).
There were also some rearrangements in the coaching ranks. Former OC Noel Mazzone and his son have moved on to the paradise that is College Station, Texas so the Bruins won't be seeing the duo until the season opener on September 3. New OC Kennedy Polamalu and new QB coach Marques Tuiasosopo took their place on they field today and we will watch how the Bruins offense evolves under the new leadership. Look for more than 5 plays to be called this spring, but don't call it a pro-style offense. More on that later.
And, most importantly, there were also some new and very exciting faces inside the helmets for U.C.L.A. on the field this morning. The Bruins had nine early admits including WR Theo Howard, LB Mique Juarez, Breland Brandt, and Lokeni Toailoa, brother and DB Leni Toailoa, kicker JJ Molson, DL Nick Terry, and QB Matt Lynch who have arrived on campus and are enrolled and were on the field this morning.
Some other notable changes took shape today. Former all Pac-12 DB Ishmael Adams was working with the wide receivers. True freshman OL starter-moved to DL Najee Toran was back working with the offensive line. RB Steven Manfro was on the field so he presumably got his medical redshirt and will have a 6th year of eligibility. Former WR turned film student turned both Cordell Broadus walked back on the team with the receivers.
And Josh Rosen was the starting quarterback. Sorry, Mike Fafaul. Some things aren't going to change any time soon.
Our thanks to Ed Lewis and Bruins Sports Report for the post practice interviews today.
Pro-style? Pro-style? Don't talk to me about pro-style!
Ah, like father, like son - lol. Head coach Jim Mora bristled a bit at the offense being labeled "pro-style" and pointed out that the offense maintained many elements from last year's spread formations but will also incorporate some more traditional fullback and tight end sets with the quarterback under center.
Josh Rosen confirmed that the offense wasn't significantly different from last year other than some formations and a bit more time under center. He did have some very positive comments regarding QB coach Marques Tuiasosopo, saying he respects him and the chemistry is great. Read into that what you will.
The Bruins OL lost some key players following last season, but it returns its most important one
Asked why he returned (when he more than any other junior could easily have gone pro), Conor McDermott said this:
I really thought about my teammates and my family and I wanted to get my degree and finish school. And just get another year at UCLA and go through my senior year and just be out there with my teammates.
F yeah. Line wins games.
Eli Ankou will be tasked with filling the enormous gap in the middle of the defensive line left by the departure of Kenny Clark. Ankou spoke very eloquently about his role and the future for the defensive line this year.
The future of D line appears to be more of a true 4-3 set which have been a hallmark of Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley's successful teams in the past. Ankou said the players are getting more and more comfortable with the coach and system. He will play a key role in that center of that line alongside Eddie Vanderdoes who is still rehabbing his knee and likely won't be on the field for spring camp.
Linebacker Jayon Brown is my early leader for best hair (holding out for Poasi Moala's first interview).
Injuries forced Brown into a starting role last season and he responded by playing nearly every snap at every position and never showed any signs of giving that up. As the Bruins move to more 4-3 sets, the LB corps effectively gets a lot deeper and Jayon's versatility and speed make him a good candidate to play the Myles Jack position - meaning anywhere and everywhere once again.
And to encapsulate Day One of the Bruins Spring Camp, our friends Ed Lewis and Joey Kaufman (who just can't stay away from U.C.L.A.) return with their excellent Cover Two Recap.
Lots of great stuff to sift through today. Hooray, spring quarter in Westwood. Hooray, football.
The next practice will be Thursday morning at 7am.