Post-scrimmage Update

UCLA’s spring game went off with a rather resounding thud, a disjointed offensive effort that stems from a relative lack of depth up front.

With senior offensive linemen Sean Sheller, Jeff Baca and Kai Maiava each out for the spring game, UCLA quarterbacks Richard Brehaut, Brett Hundley and Nick Crissman struggled to gain rhythm. But when they did, there was a noticeable difference from last year.

First of all, the Bruins debuted an offense heavy on creativity and shifting, with multiple formations and some intriguing lineups, including some things we haven’t seen during spring ball.

Secondly, Brehaut and Hundley threw the ball well, for the most part. Brehaut hit a nice fade to Nelson Rosario for a touchdown in the back of the end zone over Sheldon Price and delivered some good balls to Ricky Marvray and Taylor Embree.

Hundley had a throw on his second or third series on a sideline route to Nelson Rosario that was a perfect ball, and the timing was precise. Like, exact. Haven’t seen a lot of that recently.

The running game was a little off-and-on, but Johnathan Franklin looked great. Franklin had four carries for 50 yards, including a 39-yard jolt that included two perfect cuts and a lot of speed. Jordan James added seven carries for 45 yards and Malcolm Jones had three carries for 25 yards, including a plowing 18-yard run. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the amount of action that Anthony Barr saw, getting six carries for 22 yards. He was in the game an extensive amount, and it’s pretty clear to see that he’s someone that they want to see succeed.

Not much to say about the offensive line, other than it needs to improve. Of course, this was a unit missing three starters, and Sheller and Maiava probably could’ve played if it was a game situation. But the snapping of Greg Capella and Kody Innes was poor, and the line had troubles with stunts and blitzes.

The defense played generally well, but the linebackers were a bit lost in the pass defense. I expect that to be shored up by the beginning of the year. The defensive backs played pretty well, and Alex Mascarenas, Courtney Viney and Dietrich Riley all played very well. Riley delivered some nice hits, but also admittedly missed some tackles. Tony Dye was just dejected that he couldn’t participate today.

The biggest thing I got out of today: Once this offense gets any sense of itself – and that includes tempo and rhythm and swagger and fun – things could change for UCLA. The running game is twice as good as it was in 2009, when the team went 7-6, and if the passing game looks even a modicum better than it did today, and today is much better than the end of last year, then things are on track.

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Dual Q&A with Mike Johnson & Joe Tresey, ctd.

We’ve seen many different package groups during spring; is that a product of just getting to know them as players, or do you expect to play more situationally that UCLA has in the past?

Mike Johnson: “You have to change personnel groupings to make a defense defend all. The more guys we have who can do more things, the more personnel packages you can use. It is my job as offensive coordinator to put these guys into position to succeed, to not ask them to do things that they’re not capable of doing. We have to find roles for our players, and they have to understand what those roles are and how they fit. That is what we are trying to do. We’re using a lot of guys right now, trying to find out what they do well. As we get to training camp, get closer to the season, now you see who the playmakers are and taper it down just a little bit. My job right now is to find out who can do what.”

Joe Tresey: “The fresher they are, the faster they can play. To me, the perfect world is having eight defensive linemen, with minimal drop-off between all eight. Now if you want a certain group to rush, we’ve all done it. We’re going nickel and we’re going Bruin, well that’s one set of defensive linemen. You can evolve to that.

But what I think is more important is developing depth. I call it the next man in – you’re not a two, you’re the next man in. Is the next man in as good as the guy who’s already in? Because if he is, that’s going to keep the man in motivated. There’s competition. Then you have faith you can do what you want to do.

I just think developing 22 guys that can play on defense – with some multiple packages, and they all know it, they can all play fast – if you get that, that’s the perfect world. You’re able to play faster, you’re healthier, you’ll have less bumps, everybody’s playing. There are less reps, but they’re better.”

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Dual Q&A with Mike Johnson & Joe Tresey, ctd.

Who has surprised you in spring practice?

Mike Johnson: “I don’t know if I’ve been surprised or impressed. I don’t know I’ve done that. I don’t think we are where we want to be. I don’t think we have reached the standard and mindset change I talked about. But I think that there are a couple guys who’ve done good, consistent jobs, but not good enough. The one thing they’ve done is tried to do their best every single day. You see a big emphasis on tempo, getting in and out, and there’s been inconsistent play in that. We start off fast, then three quarters through practice, you see a lull. They are not accustomed to playing that long that hard. We need to learn how to compete for extended periods of time. They’re trying to do it, but the standard is not set in yet.”

Joe Tresey: “I don’t really know if I have a big surprise, because I didn’t know what they were like before I got here. When we go through every day, we really focus on who is getting better. Who is getting better? Who is making great strides? Damien Holmes has stood out because of his motor, because he’s relentless. Justin Edison has gotten better every day. Nate Chandler has gotten better every day. Datone Jones has gotten better every day. They’re getting better. Donovan Carter has really had a great spring, he’s caught my eye up front. Isaiah Bowens has gotten better. Glenn Love – Glenn Love has gotten better. There are guys out there.”

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Dual Q&A with Mike Johnson & Joe Tresey, ctd.

Who are you going to be leaning on most this year, not just in terms of production, but in terms of being the ultimate player?

Mike Johnson: “That’s one guy you can say, ‘Here is our starting running back,’ Johnathan Franklin. He’s done a good job. He’s a good running back, has a great work ethic. I think he’s the model of what we want to be from a football team. He’s one of those guys that has to be in the huddle, who pushes us to next level. He’s a guy who’s going to get touches on a consistent basis. But there are other guys who haven’t realized it yet that I think will get there. There are guys who show flashes, but they have no idea how good they can be. I see that. Those are the guys I’m going to try to push, get them there before September. We need those guys to make plays. I need those guys to step up and be the players, to play up to their potential level so we can be the team we want to be this year.”

Joe Tresey: “It’s very natural and normal to lean on Tony Dye and Sean Westgate because they have most the experience. But I’m leaning on them for those guys to have accountability within their rooms. That they’re making their peers accountable. In order to do that, they have to be very accountable. To me, if I’m making you accountable, I’m going to be upset if the guy next to me isn’t accountable. It’s like passing the accountability around. In the D-line room, I’m trying to figure out who that guy is.”

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Dual Q&A with Mike Johnson & Joe Tresey, ctd.

Is it your job to find more stars or to simply raise the base level of talent across the board?

Mike Johnson: “It goes back to core beliefs. We need to teach the fundamentals and techniques and then put Johnathan Franklin, Jordon James, Randall Carroll in position to run for 200 yards or catch for 150. Allow those guys, once everything is set and all 11 guys understand, to make plays. I think that’s what you do – you build the group, and the guys who are the playmakers will show themselves. Then when you get into the season, it’s your job as coach to get the ball into the hands of the guys that can make plays. I tell kids all the time, if you consistently are a guy who refuses to make the play you’re supposed to make, then you will not play, plain and simple. This game is about making plays. This is about results. A standard of excellence. No one is going to be perfect, but we have to develop a certain level of consistency as a group.”

Joe Tresey: “I think that goes hand-in-hand. Whoever you have, you have to get them better every day, from an individual aspect. If they’re bought in, you won’t have issues with the team deal. It’s all about getting the 11 guys – hell, the 40 guys in the room – to buy in. Once you get them to buy in, you get them better every day individually, it’s all going to happen. It’s all going to happen.”

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Dual Q&A with Mike Johnson & Joe Tresey, ctd.

The big gripe from last season was conservatism on both sides of the ball. How will you address that?

Mike Johnson: “I have no idea what has happened before I got here. I refuse to even comment on that. But I don’t think I’ve ever been associated with conservatism. I don’t think it is in my nature to be conservative. I think that you have to dictate to a certain point what the defense does. It is not my nature to sit back and react all the time to what a defense is doing. Sometimes you have to make them react to you. You have to do things to offset tendencies, to take shots down the field, have to run reverses. You have to do all the things that fall into vertical and horizontal philosophies, so that you can run the ball up the middle when you want to.”

Joe Tresey: “There’s a reason why you pressure. There’s a reason you play a base defense. There’s a reason you sub out and play nickel. Or play five or six DBs. Why you play a three-man front or a four-man front. There’s a reason why coaches make the decisions that they do, based on the evaluation of video. I think you have to understand what the strengths of your players are, and you have to accentuate those strengths and diminish those weaknesses. We’re very multiple – we have a lot of fire zone patterns in our package, pressure patterns in our package. We have a lot of pressures overall.

Now are we going to be good at understanding blitzes and pressures? Are our guys going to be able to play fast, play downhill, and be able to see where the tackle is going, so he’ll be able to go off of it? Are they going to be able to stay on an edge and not run into people?

You have to teach people how to blitz. They have to understand body position, how gaps move, all those things. It’s just not lining up people and turning them loose. There’s a process of teaching how to do those things. For your players, is that in their tool box? Can they become good at that? If they can, you’re more apt to pressure. If you got guys through the recruiting process, you thought they could, they get here and can’t play fast, don’t know how to fit the edges, don’t take the proper departure angles that are needed, then you have to make that determination. End of the day, whatever your kids are best at, you need to be doing.”

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Dual Q&A with Mike Johnson & Joe Tresey, ctd.

Given the talent, are you surprised there haven’t been better results here?

Mike Johnson: “To answer that question, I think we’ve underachieved to a certain extent. I’m not sure why, but I don’t believe our kids have had the level of confidence, the belief in themselves, to go out and do what they’re capable of doing. That’s what we’re trying to do in the spring. Trying to build confidence.

You look at any person with low self-esteem, and they’re not going to do what they’re capable of. We need to improve the way we see ourselves, the way we see the university and how we work. Through those things, their play will improve.”

Joe Tresey: “Let me tell you, it is hard to win football games at the Division-1 level. I don’t care who you play. It doesn’t matter. It’s changed. You have Appalachian State going into Michigan. That’s a prime example. When I was growing up, there were maybe 15 or 20 programs; when they played a MAC school for the most part, except if they were playing Miami of Ohio back in the day, maybe Toledo, you could probably go to Vegas and know you were going to win…with the spread.

That’s changed. I think it’s hard to win at this level. There aren’t many programs around where you can say, ‘Wow, how are they not winning?’ You just don’t get it much anymore. There might be a few. You know, Texas went 5-7 last year. They have more five stars than anybody. How many five stars are in the Super Bowl?

It’s all because of the internet. The internet has created the star effect. If we didn’t have the internet today, there wouldn’t be the star effect. People wouldn’t be enamored with, ‘They have all these five-stars. They have all this.’ I just think it’s tough. You have to battle every day.”

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More from Close press conference

On returning to California:
“What a privelege, here with my mom and dad, and they’re two hours away. I have had incredible experiences Tallahassee. But the joy to be able to come home and share with friends and family, I just have unnumberable memories of being a part of UCLA. But also, I’m a California kid, the only place I lived until that brief stint in Tallahassee.”

On Caldwell:
“I have a lot of respect for what Nikki and her staff did here the last several years. I’m a UCLA fan, as well. I have admired, celebrated the steps taken over recent years. I’m also really grateful for what Kathy Olivier taught me. I would be foolish to really not admire and analyze what they’ve built and to build on those. I really see the momentum. I’ve seen the shift, not only in the way the program is percieved, but also in attitude of players and what they want to achieve. I really want to take the baton.”

On taking the job:
“I’ve had some opportunities to be head coach in past, and it’s really about finding the right match. From the very beginning, it was not them convicing me and it was not me selling myself. It was exploring if this could be a really good match. I was contacted by senior staff, had the opportunity to talk with me and several others. Got to meet so many amazing people that were giving enough to sit down with me and talk with me and give me a great sense of what this is about. They deserve a medal of honor for putting up with all my questions.

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Dual Q&A with Mike Johnson & Joe Tresey, ctd.

Assess the talent on your side of the ball, despite your brief time with the team:

Mike Johnson: I think I have skill talent. I think the skill talent is there. I believe the skill talent is a group that is trying to find its way, trying to figure out how to play up to its potential. To play hard consistently. I don’t think that’s there yet. I don’t think the work ethic, the depth in which we play, how hard we play, is there yet. I believe the offensive line is a group that’s trying to play together as a collective group, and there’s been constant injury there that has prevented that from happening at times.

The talent now, I have no idea what the talent is on other teams. I don’t know the talent level at the Pac-12 level because I’ve been away from it for so long. All I know is, I’ve been in the NFL and if we can get our skill talent to play up to its potential, we’ll have a chance. Then if we can get the quarterbacks to make decent decisions and as an offensive group understand ball security and field position and become more aware in situational football, we give ourselves a chance to win every game.”

Joe Tresey: I think we have the ability to be a very good football team. Just talking from the defensive end of it, I think we have some players that have very good ability, they’re athletic, and we need to get better at what we’re preaching. It’s all about buying in, at the end of the day. If you want to be 3-4, 4-3, run-and-shoot, pistol – I really don’t care. Whatever you’re teaching, are they going to buy into it? Once you get them to buy in, now you have them to the point where I understand their strengths and weaknesses and evaluate that on a consistent basis. Fit that within the package and go from there.

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UCLA women’s hoops introduces Cori Close

New UCLA women’s head coach Cori Close on the job:
“I’m very excited, and I feel prepared and ready. I’ve been prepping for this entire life. But I’m so humbled because I know I don’e do this alone and it’s not about me.”

On the Bruins’ talent:
“This is a very unique opportunity I have because this program is not broken. This program has great talent, and I have the opportunity to take the baton. I was sharing with players earlier that my expectations really mirror what’s going on at Pauley Pavilion. I love that we’re renovating and restoring and preserving Pauley Pavilion. We’re not starting over. There’s incredible rich tradition, foundational things in place that we are preserving. But we’re also adding to it. We’re adding new traditions. Were adding spice to it.
“That’s where I feel our women’s basketball program is now.”

On her primary goal:
“I’m really passionate about disciplined skill development; about coming in one way and every year adding that player development so that when you leave here you’re different than when you came.”

On John Wooden (breaking down in tears):
“My old staff said save this until the end because you know you’ll cry. Coming back here and knowing that I have a chance to build on the basketball tradition in a way that humbly reflects my deepest mentor is nothing short of an amazing honor.
Nan, I’ve thought about you so often, because you shared your daddy with us. The amazing sacrifice you made for sharing him as a mentor.
When I was here, I was in my sweats and I always wanted to meet Coach Wooden. Steve Lavin came up to my cubicle, and said we’re going. I’m in sweats, I can’t go. Come on, we’re going. I was so nervous, about as nervous as I am now. I walked into his wonderful home, said, ‘I’m Cori,’ and he asks, ‘How do you spell that? Ah my great granddaughter’s name is spelled that way, come on in.” That started a friendship, and I realized he meant much more to me than I meant to him.
Coach Wooden wrote me a note as I left California for Florida, and I had all these things they had given me, and as I arrived at Florida State, they matted all of them, including the note and the last picture we took. I am thrilled humbled, excited, driven to re-mat that photo in Bruin blue and gold to put in my office at UCLA.”

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