* If two days are any indication, the attitude of the UCLA football team is changing, from the top on down. There have been more dives, more dust-ups and scrums than I can remember at any spring practice in three years, and it doesn’t appear that the players are getting coaxed into it.
* I’ve documented the coaching youth movement before – the average age of each current coach is eight years young than Rick Neuheisel’s first staff – but it’s really been on display the last two days at Spaulding. Defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin looks like he’s ready to join the drills. Eric Yarber will need to invest in 6,000 tooth picks over the course of the season as they keep flying out of his mouth as he sprints onto the field. Jeff Ulbrich is about to lay someone out. The players are loving it.
* As far as individual performances on Thursday…
* Dalton Hilliard continues to impress at running back. Good moves, strong runner. Have to wonder how he would’ve fit in the last three years. Need to see how he handles constant contact in pads & pad level.
* RB coach Steve Broussard on Hilliard: “I saw him in high school and recruited him – not very hard because he committed here soon after we offered him – but you go back and say, I’ve seen him at running back but he’s been away from it for a long time. It’s just a matter of him getting reps, him feeling comfortable. He looks like he’s never lost a step.”
* Ricky Marvray drew praise from Jim Mora after deciding to return to practice after hurting his back. Mora lauded his toughness, but he also made a couple highlight plays, as well. He’s someone who could thrive in open space – very shifty – and he’s got good balance when he isn’t going too fast for his own good.
* Broussard on Steven Manfro, who is getting a good look at running back: “It’s kind of early, but he’s got the want-to, has good ball skills, good vision, acceleration, speed. He’s definitely a guy who is intriguing to us. He’s picking up the offense. Definitely he’s a guy who you can look at and say, “He can be used.”
* Brandon Willis is getting plenty of opportunities to make up for two years of obscurity, and he’s making the most of it. He has great hand placement but too often gets caught up in the muck. In pads, he should be better served as he can take advantage of his quickness in the interior.
* DT Donovan Carter had a couple good rushes right up the gut, and he definitely figures as a high-rep guy. Very good motor on him, and he’s leaned out a little bit after bulking up so much following the move to defensive tackle.
* Speaking of crash diets, Darius Bell has to be the surprise of the first two days. From a complete afterthought at quarterback to a guy who has really shone at wideout. He told me after practice he’s lost 27 pounds in the course of a year, and it’s showing. He has really good balance and physicality – twice he ripped the ball from a defender for the catch. I’ll have a video up of him shortly.
* Injury report: Joseph Fauria tweaked a hamstring, Greg Capella strained his calf, and DT Brandon Tuliapupu hurt his hand.
* UCLA quarterback situation – no movement, but accuracy will ultimately seal the deal for someone. Ball needs to be in the right place, at the right time in this offense.
* UCLA had some major recruits in attendance today, including Hatari Byrd, Tee Sheppard, Nico Falah, Joe Mathis. Lotta buzz out at Spaulding.
* One last great quote from Broussard: “When you come in with a new staff, it’s proving time, so there’s a level of freshness. But at the same time, we’re in pajamas. Everyone looks fast and quick. But we love the energy and we love the competitiveness.”