Bruin fans, we’re halfway there. The Spring Game is here, which means we are roughly halfway through the off season and nearing that majestic day when UCLA football starts again (132 days, to be exact).
What We’ll See
According to yesterday’s interviews, Odua Isibor said one of the main things the team has been working on is the pass rush. This has to be music to fans’ ears, as UCLA basically had no rushing defense last year, coming in at 100 out of 129 FBS teams and allowing opponents to carve up roughly 200 yards per game. Isibor says the team has worked on “breaking down the steps and working on individual parts to get us where we need to be...stances, individual pass moves, stuff like that” and “it’s a big difference from last year.” According to Isibor, head coach Chip Kelly is “getting feedback from us [on what] we need to do to get ourselves better” and is looking for “a higher level of physicality.” He said the level of pass rush is “definitely elevated” and even though Keisean Lucier-South is out, they are working hard and waiting his return. In his interview, Chip Kelly said the plan is to get him back for the summer, but we will definitely not see him on the field tomorrow.
One aspect that stood out from Isibor’s interview is the idea of follow through. Time and again last year we saw the UCLA defense not completely following through on plays or not giving tackles that final push to get to the opposing team’s quarterback. A member of the media asked Isibor what it takes to get to the backfield and actually make the sack. Isibor said it is the “finishing aspect...working on finishing off and getting to the quarterback. That final level of strain.” He said everything is coming with practice and building experience.
Osa Odighizuwa was also interviewed and pointed out the work done on the pass rush. He spoke of “working on a position getting the shoulder leverage. We’ve been drilling...different kinds of tackles being in those positions and just finishing with the right body position just to make that play.”
It’s apparent that the pass rush was a huge emphasis this spring and will continue to be when the team reconvenes in fall camp. Hopefully tomorrow’s game will feature some of this work and put improvement on display.
Odighizuwa was also asked about adjusting to the change in coaching regimes and the challenges that a team can face when a new staff comes in. He said, “when you’re dealing with change there is always grown pains but I feel like guys have done a good job adjusting and buying in, just adapting with the culture.” It is clear there has been change, and some players were just unable to hang with it, as we saw a mass exodus from the program at the end of last year. But in year two, we should be left with a core group that the media termed “the survivors”.
Of course, it’s still spring and we never truly see what the team is capable of until fall, but we can certainly see improvements and growth from last season.
Odua Idibor’s interview is courtesy of Tracy Pierson of Bruin Report Online.
What’s Still Up In the Air
According to Chip Kelly, after yesterday’s practice they would be looking at who is available to determine the format for tomorrow’s game. There were still players in yellow non-contact jerseys and, without giving specifics, Kelly just said they would be reviewing a report later in the day. He was his typically non-committal self and very hesitant to go into any real detail.
There was, of course, the age-old question about who we would see at the quarterback position, but he only offered that “Dorian has been pushing himself” and “we’re not concerned with the depth chart in spring. Everybody gets the same amount of reps.” He is looking for good alignment, technique, and minimal mistakes in the Spring Game, and when it comes to personnel “if they’re healthy, they’re playing.” He also said there will be some movement on the offensive line and specifically mentioned Jon Gaines and his versatility playing center, guard, and tackle, and Alex Johnson playing both left tackle and right tackle.
Chip Kelly’s interview is also courtesy of Tracy Pierson of Bruin Report Online.
The Spring Game Experience
Beginning at 11:00 am PT, we should expect to see Blue vs. White and a variety of personnel rotated in. The clock typically runs the entire game and fans should expect to be in a lot of sun. According to information from the athletic department, admission this year is free with a suggested donation of two canned goods per person. In years past when the Spring Game has been at Drake Stadium, there have been refreshments available for purchase at the snack bar and two to three restaurants like Chik-Fil-A selling food on the top concourse, but it’s not known if that will again be the case. Following the game, there is going to be a 30-minute autograph session, where players are available to sign memorabilia and take pictures. Last year, fans were not allowed on the field as they had been before and were instead kept behind a rope around the edge of the sideline and end zone.
If you are planning on staying in Westwood after the Spring Game, there is also a baseball game beginning at 2:00 pm PT against UC Berkeley. So, you can hop on over to Jackie Robinson Stadium and make it a doubleheader.
The full game will be televised live on Pac-12 Networks Los Angeles. Fans outside of Southern California can watch only the first hour live on Pac-12 Network National. As is usually the case, there will be numerous replays throughout the week. A live stream will be available on the Pac-12 Now app.