After yesterday’s fourth practice of Fall Camp, Coach Mora spoke about how good this week’s practices have been. He said, “We’ve had four outstanding, outstanding work days.” Of course, he tempered that comment by saying that the team still has a lot of work to do. But, he raved about the team’s overall work ethic and called Wednesday’s practice one of the best ones the team has had since he’s been there. He said:
Up until the last 20 minutes of yesterday’s practice, by far, the best practice we’ve ever had at UCLA, by far. It wasn’t even close...on both sides of the ball. Then we kind of fizzled a little bit.
The team is continuing to use officials in practice in order to try to fix their penalty issues. As a result, Lokeni Toailoa was thrown out of practice for fighting. Mora said he asked the officials if they would have ejected anyone from a game and they said they would have thrown out 52. “Then he’s got to leave the field,” Mora added. And, he threw Toailoa out of practice.
Mora spoke about the team’s focus on trying to eliminate problems with penalties. He said:
We have been really, really good at times until we get in the red zone and then we have penalty problems. And, that was once again a little bit of an issue today. We had 154 competitive plays and we had 5 penalties and they were all in the red zone plus a red zone sack.
Mora mentioned that Theo Howard and Darren Andrews are little banged up. “Theo howard strained his hamstring and it’s nothing serious but we need to make sure he recovers before we put him out here,” said Mora.
He also spoke about the overall progress of the offense and sounded pleased. He said:
I think it’s really hard for me to overstate how important it was.
When you see a completely different looking unit these first four days than you ever did in Spring. It’s not even close. From the guys getting off the ball at the same time...the lack of the false starts...guys getting organized and lined up correctly and then the execution. We still have light years to go, but we’re on the right track.
In addition to talking about the progress of the offense, he also spoke about the complexity of the new offense. While he certainly wasn’t intending to swipe at Noel Mazzone’s offense, if you think about what he said, it can certainly sound like one, even though he was just trying to compare them. Mora explained:
It’s fair to say that [the new offense] is more complicated. There’s more formations. There’s more personnel groups. Verbiage is a little bit different, not terribly different, but a little bit different. We’re doing some different schemes in the run game. Some of the patterns are different. It’s more of a gameplan-type of offense rather than a system. It’s more of a progression-oriented passing game rather than just finding the open guy and throwing it to him. In the long run, it’s really going to benefit us as a team, Josh as a quarterback and our players.
Mora also spoke about something the team is doing different this year. They’ve hired, what CoachingSearch.com calls, a mental conditioning coach who has worked with five of the last seven National Champions. It’s just something else, in addition to the change in offensive and defensive schemes that the team is doing differently in an attempt to make the jump to the next level. The team is also doing having more bonding activities each day after practice than in years past. Mora said:
We hired a guy named Trevor Moawad who’s come in. He’s worked with Alabama and Nick Saban for ten years. He’s worked with Florida State. He’s been on the staffs of five of the last seven national champions. He’s been with us all summer and now this first week and he’ll be with us during the season.
So far, it seems to be working, at least if you listen to Nate Starks. Starks explained what he thinks is different about this year’s team:
One thing that’s changed a lot about this year is being a team and getting us as a team....It’s all about coming together as a team and winning as many games as possible. It’s not acceptable to lose two games anymore. We want to go all the way. Just getting us as a team is the main goal.
It’s really nice to hear that losing two games isn’t acceptable any longer. Hopefully, Moawad can get the team to make the needed mental adjustments to get over that hump.
Next up is offensive line coach Adrian Klemm. Klemm took some guesswork out of things for everyone concerned about the offensive line when he said that they have figured out who the two guards will be. Klemm said:
Right now, we have our starters...Kenny Lacy and Poasi Moala...Going into it right now, that’s what it is....Najee’s right there, but the defense needed him. So, having him go over there set him back a little bit, but he’s progressing. He’s gaining weight back. He’s 278 right now and he’s looking good.
I don’t think anyone was expecting to learn who the guards will be for a few weeks yet, partly because, since Jim Mora became head coach, the team doesn’t generally acknowledge who has won a position battle this early in training camp. That’s seemed mostly like it was designed to encourage players to keep pushing one another for the right to start.
But, regardless, it appears that the two guards will be Lacy and Moasi. Let’s hope both guys play well.
The player of the week, if the team named one, might just be Ainuu Taua. Twice this week, Taua has caught everyone’s attention with his physical play.
He spoke with the media yesterday and talked about how he was asked to switch from defense to offense. Taua said:
It was before Spring ball. I tried it during Spring and I’ve been running it ever since....
Coach Mora called me in and said, “Hey, what do you think about playing fullback? We’re switching up the offense.” If that’s where you guys see me being more successful then let’s run it. I’m ready to do it for the team.
It’s great to hear how players are willing to do what’s asked for the good of the team.
Last but not least, we have Nate Starks. In addition to his comments about how the team is coming together, he also spoke about the running back competition.
Today’s practice is scheduled to begin at 9:30 am and tomorrow has a double session with one at 8:30 am and the other at 3:30, which will be followed by an autograph session as part of Westwood Fan Appreciation Day.