Freshman linebacker Mique Juarez, the five-star recruit out of Torrance, CA returned to UCLA for classes on Monday, and plans to meet with head coach Jim Mora later this week. According to linebackers and special teams coach Scott White, there's a plan in place for him to return to the football team.
"The plan hasn't changed at all," White said to reporters on Tuesday. "The plan was always for him to be back with us. That was never ever part of it, where he was going to walk away or go somewhere else, or do anything like that. He's always been with us."
Juarez enrolled early at UCLA to participate in spring practice, but was limited through much of it due to a concussion. During the first week of fall camp, before the Bruins traveled to San Bernardino for a week, Juarez mysteriously disappeared from team activities due to what Jim Mora called an "excused absence," while the freshman reportedly dealt with personal issues.
"This thing is bigger than football," White said. "We're talking about a young man here, and we want to make sure that he's okay as a person first, more so than Mique the football player."
On the Improvement of the Linebackers
When UCLA traveled to Tucson last year, in a game featured by ESPN's College Gameday, the Bruins trounced the Wildcats, but were exposed for their inability to stop the run. This year's defense has played much better against the run, which White attributes to improved execution by the linebackers.
"We've emphasized with the guys taking the next step, and we can't play for you," White said. "And at the end of the day it's all about execution, and that's what they've been doing a really nice job of over the past few weeks."
Jayon Brown, who leads the team in tackles this season, was thrust into a starting role last season at Arizona when Myles Jack suffered a knee injury in practice and was lost for the season.
"It's night and day," White said. "Now he's a leader, a captain, whereas last year at this time he was just breaking into the lineup... It's 180 this year. He has complete control, complete command of the defense, and of the other guys on the team in terms of getting guys lined up, and quarterbacking the thing from a linebacker standpoint."
White also commented on the progress of message board scourge Kenny Young, who's worked with Trevor Moawad to improve his mental approach, and is second in tackles on the team.
"Kenny's issue has never been physical. He owns the defense more than ever. He understands what's going on around him," White said. "That's why you're seeing him play a lot faster, and be more decisive, and be more of a playmaker."
Josh Rosen Staying the Course
Quarterback coach and passing game coordinator Marques Tuiasosopo also spoke with the media on Tuesday about Josh Rosen, who seems to have a regressed a bit this season, but is steadily playing better each game.
"He is on course, and we are not going to panic. We are just going to keep working hard. He's improving week to week," Tuiasosopo said. "At some point that thing's going to take off, and we'll be playing at very high level. I'm not going to change. We're doing all the right things."
Exploring Other Options in the Return Game
White also spoke about the special teams, and said he was mostly pleased with the third phase of football, except for the return game.
"We gotta get our punt return game really going," White said. "We've put the ball on the ground a couple times, but we got some things to shore that up."
Asked if they were looking at other candidates on the team to take returns other than Ishmael Adams, who is averaging only 3 yards per return, White inferred that other guys were being looked at in practice.
QB’s/Passing Coordinator Marques Tuiasosopo:
LB Coach Scott White: