The Bruins held their first two-a-day practice earlier today in San Bernardino. There was several hours between the AM and PM practices, but the folks who were able to stick around were rewarded with plenty of Bruin Football.
Likely the biggest news out of the day for the Bruins was Adarius Pickett's switch from defensive back to running back. Uclaluv was at practice this morning and was first to break the news of the position change in our practice open thread; the coaches told Adarius of their plan after Friday's practice per Bruin Report Online. According to Jack Wang's video of the post-practice presser (video embedded below), Mora gave some reasons for the switch: The depth at defensive back this season is absolutely crazy (not Mora's exact words, of course), with enough talented guys to keep him out of the rotation this season. That fact that Pickett was a running back in high school may just help get him on the field this fall. He was one of my favorite recruits from this class, and he certainly seems to have the talent to have an early impact.
While It is great that Adarius is impressing the coaches this early in his time as a Bruin, it isn't a great sign for how the lower end of the depth chart at running back is shaking out to date - Craig Lee and Nate Starks have had some growing pains behind the returning duo of Jordon James and Paul Perkins. The running game did seem to improve today, but the defensive backs continuing to have the upper hand on the receivers, at least in the AM session. At least per Ryan Kartje's wrapup, the receivers turned the tables at night.
In the post-practice talk with the media embedded above, Coach Mora notes that he has confidence in eight of his DB's right now to face off against the offenses of the Pac-12. Given all the reports about how that unit is practicing so far, it is hard to blame him confidence. And what a change that is from past years, where having one or two elite defenders back there was something to celebrate.
In addition to Adarius' switch to offense, there was plenty for Coach Mora to talk about after the AM session, including even more praise for the defensive backs, and yet another confirmation that Priest Willis is a CB. On the LB's, he noted that Deon Hollins is looking like a role player - which he presented in a positive context - and that Kenny Young is practicing great, and looks to have a good shot at earning the starting ILB spot along side Eric Kendricks. David Woods caught up with Kenny after practice for a few minutes on camera for BRO.
Looking ahead to possible "Dofense" situations this fall, Ainuu Taua is mentioned in the video and by Jordan Lee on Twitter as a candidate for the coaches to 'crosstrain', with Mora mentioning the possibility of him seeing a few situational plays at fullback or tight end in addition to possibly place in the D-line rotation. For that matter, all three of the freshman D-linemen have performed well to date, with Taua, Matt Dickerson and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner all mentioned as guys who can contribute to the defense this season, according to the video from Jack Wang. Coach Mora also mentions in that video that he is looking for reasons not to redshirt players, rather than to redshirt guys in their first fall in Westwood.
In injury news, Coach Mora confirmed in the video that Cameron Griffin will have surgery to repair the shoulder that he injured in practice earlier this week, while depth receiver Sam Handler tore his ACL per Chris Foster. Lastly, Mora discussed that Simon Goines had surgery on his ankle and the coaches hope that he will be able to return for the mid-September game in Texas.
The competition to replace the departed Sean Covington was going well, per uclaluv's practice updates, while Ishmael Adams, Devin Fuller and Randall Goforth were on the receiving end of those punts this morning. Chris Foster expanded on the UCLA return game in his Saturday afternoon story for the Times, noting the offseason work that the coaches have put into that aspect of the game.
But punt returns were "probably the worst part of our special teams last year," Mora said and it needed to improve. So he shipped assistant coach Mike Tuiasosopo to North Carolina to do some recon work.
The Tar Heels averaged 18.1 yards to lead the nation...
"We'll incorporate some of their stuff," Mora said. "If we can add a first down to every punt return before the offense has to go on the field, that'll make a big difference to us."
You can read through the comments from our Saturday practice open thread for a running commentary from uclaluv and others who were at practice today as well as some of the early observations from the media who have made the trek out to San Bernardino.
In Jack Wang's video of that morning media session, Coach Mora noted that the team will be heading up to Bruin Woods on Sunday for some R&R before returning to the practice field on Monday. So for anyone lucky enough to be there this weekend, be sure to say hi to the players and coaches.