The U.C.L.A. Bruins had an early 7am practice this morning but were happy to welcome a few bodies back to the field. Jim Mora's squad had several players who had missed practice either back participating or on the field working with coaches today. Being that it's spring football, there's no rush for players to get back on the field and getting totally healthy is far more important. But it's good for as many players as possible, especially the young ones, to get time on they field at full speed (or close to it) and to get players comfortable and established at a position.
The LA Daily News's Thuc Nhi Nguyen had some outstanding observations from this morning's practice. While the defense has been dominating through most of the spring practices, it sounds like the offense had some good results today. A couple highlights...
The seemed to be some new packages/plays for both the offense and defense today. There were a lot of end-arounds during the first team period. Jordan Lasley scored on one inside the red zone in the first team period. On defense, there looked to be an increased emphasis on nickel packages.
Eldridge Massington had one of his best days of camp, catching a pass from Josh Rosen to covert a fourth down during the first 11-on-11 period, then catching a touchdown pass from Matt Fafaul in the second team period. He also hauled in a catch from Rosen with a defender hanging on him in the second period.
Bolu Olorunfunmi had some good moments Wednesday, including a great jump cut that led to a touchdown in the red zone in 11-on-11. However, he was not free from Kennedy Polamalu's scorn as Olorunfunmi got chewed out for trying to cut back in a goal-line situation. Polamalu called it "selfish" and "high-school running" to cut back on the goal line.
Good to see the offense showing some signs of progress. You can see - and should - read Nguyen's complete article at InsideUCLA here.
Theo Howard met with the media after practice for the first time this spring and he interviews like a pro. He doesn't sound like a kid who should be going to a high school prom this weekend.
Howard says that entering school early to go through spring camp has been a huge advantage in for him, both in terms of getting to learn the offense (especially now that there is an actual playbook) and to adapting to the mental intensity of competing every day and being part of a D-1 program. Part of that development has included working a lot off the field with WRs Eldridge Massington and Kenny Walker as well as last year's top WR Jordan Payton. Howard laughed as the question of whether he or Walker was faster, saying that they may have to race one day to find out. They could probably sell a few tickets to watch that one. It'll be nice to have some burners on the field.
No one says class for the U.C.L.A. Bruins quite like Deon Hollins, literally, as Deon has been frequently jetting from practice early to get to class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. With the early start on a Wednesday, we finally got to hear from him the senior linebacker, errr...defensive end this spring.
The Bruins change to a 4-3 base will probably affect Hollins more than anyone else on the front 7, as he's had to drop down from an outside linebacker spot which maximized his speed and athleticism to a defensive end position where size and power will become more important. Additionally, this change might be the opposite of where he would likely play in the pros as an outside pass rush specialist, so he's making a notable sacrifice for the team over his best pro interests. The position change means he's been working a lot with DL Coach Angus McClure (as well as some unnamed specialists, hmmm) to refine his technique and work on pre snap reads. It sounds like he is still working with Coach Bradley and Coach Scott White on linebacker skills as well. His new position will probably see him not dropping into pass coverage as frequently, but he notes that each week will present different matches in terms of personnel and formations that will affect how the defense plans to attack the line of scrimmage. There are some who downplay Hollins' potential this season over concerns about his size and strength at the DE spot, but we've seen and heard more than enough from Deon (and his mom) over the last 3 years to know that that would be a mistake. He just keeps rising and meeting the new challenges every year and the only thing ever holding him back is, well, pretty much holding by the OL. Deon is one of my all-time favorite Bruins, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how he transitions this year.
Josh Woods got back into action today after being limited the last few practices by some minor injuries.
The rash of injuries and resultant lack of depth at the 4 linebacker positions last season really highlighted the importance of versatility among the LB corps. With that in mind, Woods has been the poster linebacker for versatility this spring. He is primarily playing the weak side (Will) spot but says he knows the strong side (Sam) spot and he has been playing middle (Mike) in nickel and dime packages. So basically he's playing each of the 3 LB spots. He'd like to add some weight onto his 235# frame now which would give him some more beef to play in the middle, but he says that maintaining his speed is his primary concern. The shift from last year's base 3-4 to this year's 4-3 also takes a linebacker off the field (or moves him to DE ala Hollins) so Woods is battling with last year's hero Jayon Brown for time at the Will this spring. After Brown's performance last season, it's hard to imagine anyone else starting, but Scott White is finding himself flush with great players at the position right now and Woods provides some impressive depth, even if if that depth has been missing through spring ball. #LinebackerU.
Cameron Judge is another linebacker who saw a lot of playing time last year due to injuries, and he's continuing from where he left off.
Judge notes that he's been playing mostly strong side linebacker this spring and sometimes from a down position along the line of scrimmage, though he's been playing some reps at Will himself with some of his fellow LBs missing some time lately. Like Brown, the injuries last season gave him a great opportunity to get playing time and show what he could do. Judge says that stopping the run has been a big focus for the defense as a whole and that he has seen the defense take steps this spring. Playing against a more run focused offense and getting a certain Eddie Vanderdoes back will help in this regard.
The Bruins next practice is tomorrow at 4:30 pm and Spring Football closes on Saturday at 11:30 at Drake Stadium with the Spring Showcase.