» Head coach Jim Mora called UCLA’s Thursday afternoon session the team’s best practice yet in San Bernardino, pointing out the team’s improved athleticism along the front as well as its improved maturity.
Besides injury updates, Jim Mora spent the first 5:30 or so of Thursday’s interview scrum (video above) talking about the defensive line, and how having players like Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Kenny Clark, Eddie Vanderdoes and Ellis McCarthy was ideal for this year’s scheme.
» San Bernardino has been unseasonably cool this week, hovering mostly in the mid- to high 80s. Still, injuries have started to add up after four days in the Inland Empire.
The most serious injury right now is linebacker Cameron Griffin’s shoulder, which he landed on two days ago and has wrapped in a sling since. He’ll be examined further by doctors on Saturday.
“It doesn’t look like it’s real positive, but we’ll see,” Mora said. “Keep our fingers crossed.”
Starting guard Alex Redmond looked was held out on Thursday after leaving Wednesday’s practice due to heat exhaustion. Linebacker Zach Whitley left Thursday’s practice after taking a hit to the head. Inside receiver Thomas Duarte is still limited by a hamstring he originally tweaked in spring.
According to the Los Angeles Times, offensive lineman Simon Goines will have ankle surgery and be out at least three weeks.
» When talking about the pass rush, Mora pointed out the play of linebacker Aaron Wallace. The redshirt sophomore ran into academic trouble and couldn’t enroll for spring quarter, forcing him to miss spring camp.
“When you go through what he went through in the spring and something you love is snatched away from you, you come to appreciate it a little bit more,” Mora said. “I think that happened to him.”
» Freshman linebacker Kenny Young had a big hit for his second practice in a row, knocking running back Nathan Starks back about a foot during 1-on-1 blocking drills. The impact could be heard from at least 30 yards away.
Young’s matchups during that drill looked downright unfair at times. Prior to bouncing Starks, he also blasted redshirt freshman Craig Lee and walk-on Christian Wehrly.
» As for running backs, UCLA will likely lean mostly on senior Jordon James and redshirt sophomore Paul Perkins. Lee, a four-star recruit in last year’s signing class, has had trouble with fumbles this week, and still has a lot to learn about playing the position at the college level.
Mora called Lee “really raw,” and said the 5-foot-11, 185-pound tailback “still doesn’t know where the hole is going to be.”
“He can run,” Mora said. “His blocking is getting better. He’s catching the ball a little bit better — he’s still not a natural, but he’ll work on that. The big thing with Craig is if he can get to open space, he’s going to be hard to catch.”
Mora used Perkins as a contrasting example. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound back has looked much more patient looking for holes this camp than in the past, which is the type of development that Lee needs.
» At 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, Nate Iese has looked like a tantalizing prospect on both defense and offense during his few years at UCLA. At fullback, though, the redshirt sophomore seems to have found his niche as a big blocker who is versatile enough to also serve as a target for Brett Hundley.
“He can do so many things,” Mora said. “I think he can carry the ball. He can block out of the backfield. We can use him at the line of scrimmage as an on-line blocker. We can flex him out, and he can do things in the pass game. He kind of creates mismatches because he’s so big and physical, yet he’s athletic and he can run.”
» Receivers coach Eric Yarber tagged freshman Alex Van Dyke with a new nickname: “Bambi.” Yarber joked about how the lean, 6-foot-4 wideout always looks a little wobbly on his legs, adding, “But we’ll get him strong!”
For what it’s worth, junior receiver Devin Fuller said he didn’t think the nickname will stick once Van Dyke gets stronger.