Midway through UCLA’s first spring ball under Jim Mora, lets take a look at what we know and what we don’t know…
As I wrote in Tuesday’s post-practice wrap-up, the UCLA offense has a big lead over the defense so far, for myriad reasons. One big one? Noel Mazzone’s offense rewards those who can provide a spark, something that’s been sorely missing for a long time. When is the last time UCLA had a real home-run hitter, or even a change-of-pace guy who could be counted on to bust a big run?
With more of a spread look, the playmakers are getting the ball quicker, and early indications are that they certainly know what to do with it. Guys who have been pretty much overlooked – Jordon James, Ricky Marvray, Steven Manfro, Damien Thigpen, etc. – have had new life breathed into them.
I had an interesting debate yesterday with another writer about all the quarterbacks kind of muddled together in the same category. True, but the general play is better than it has been the past couple springs, that’s for sure. Richard Brehaut has been the most consistent passer, Kevin Prince still has the foremost respect of his teammates and coaches and Brett Hundley has made some big strides this spring, ironically by taking shorter strides in his delivery, and Jerry Neuheisel has been surprisingly effective.
Still, the competition is nowhere near over, and I’m not so sure it will be by the end of spring, unless one guy really starts distancing himself. Way too close to call.
Fact is, the Bruins are not nearly as far along as they need to be up front. Temporary stop-gaps have been terribly inconsistent, and the overall youth of the unit has been on display, as bad snaps, false starts and a general sense of panic sets in at times. Xavier Su’a-Filo is coming along well for a guy who missed two years and Jeff Baca has been a steady senior presence.
But who else? Greg Capella has been hurt, Brett Downey has been pushed around and a rotating cast at guard has not done much to solidify things. You get the sense that Adrian Klemm is pretty frustrated with the play right about now, and he really sounds like he intends to test out some of his true freshman come the fall.
Last year, by unanimous account, the defensive line absolutely dominated the offensive line. Datone Jones looked almost like Deacon Jones for much of the preseason, simply annihilating his man. Damien Holmes was a beast off the edge and Cassius Marsh got great push up front. Then we found out how bad the UCLA offensive line was, and all those grand expectations went out the window for the D-line.
Through seven spring practices, the Bruins haven’t gotten a tremendous amount of pressure on the quarterback, and it remains to be seen who’s going to be the big pass-rusher this year. Jones, back for his redshirt senior year, has been almost an afterthought this spring. Marsh has looked pretty good, as has Seali’i Epenesa and Brandon Willis at defensive tackle, but their ability to rush takes a backseat in the 3-4. Aramide Olaniyan has been pretty much working exclusively at backup linebacker, and Damien Holmes switch to linebacker has taken away some of his impact. Perhaps the inclusion of Ellis McCarthy will help turn things up, but what’s abundantly clear is that UCLA needs to improve on its No. 112 sack ranking from last season.