Spring notes: Early enrollee NaJee Toran playing with a mean streak on offense line

Two weeks through spring camp, NaJee Toran has been a pleasant surprise on UCLA’s offensive line.

A three-star recruit out of the Houston area, Toran has found a spot as a backup right guard, mixing in some first-team reps along the way. The 6-foot-3, 275-pound lineman doesn’t overwhelm most opponents in size, but makes up for that with a relentless motor.

He’s been that way ever since he started playing football.

“I think it was my seventh grade year, I just exploded through somebody,” Toran said. “They just fell back. Since then, I’ve just been doing the same thing.”

The habit may have actually started on the basketball court. Though Toran usually had a physical edge over players his age, he felt like he had something to prove when matched up against older, bigger opponents.

“The feeling of overpowering somebody … of making somebody look weak — it puts a feeling inside me that I like,” he said.

– Receivers had a great showing in one-on-one drills on Saturday, with several players creating tons of separation off of just one cut. Devin Lucien, Thomas Duarte and Mossi Johnson were among the standouts, but almost nobody fared poorly. Linebacker Myles Jack probably performed better than most of the defensive backs during one-on-ones. Continue reading

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Spring notes: Defensive back Johnny Johnson leaves practice with wrist injury


– Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone talked about running back Craig Lee, the backup quarterback battle, and a couple of receivers.

– Defensive back Johnny Johnson left practice after injuring his right wrist trying to tackle walk-on receiver Andrew Huusfeldt. Johnson was expected to contribute to the secondary as a true freshman last season, but sat out the year after separating his right shoulder.

Even if his latest injury is serious, UCLA’s secondary should still be in good shape. Arguably the team’s weakest unit two seasons ago, it now balances plenty of depth and talent. The name to watch now is safety Tahaan Goodman, who looks like a completely different player than one that arrived at UCLA last summer. Continue reading

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Position coach Eric Yarber talks about UCLA’s receivers


On Eldridge Massington, who spent redshirted last season and spent over a year recovering from a torn ACL:

“He’s coming along. He’s transitioning pretty good. Just need him to play a little faster, stop thinking. Sometimes, he has paralysis by analysis, so he plays a little slower. When he knows what he’s doing and knows his assignments, knows the technique to use, he’s playing well. …

“At his break point, instead of letting the defensive back dictate where he breaks, he’s running through shoulders and dropping his weight and trying to create separation. Trying to play big. He’s 6-3, 215 — he’s got to play that way. … Continue reading

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Nate Iese adjusts to hybrid fullback role in UCLA offense


Nate Iese talked yesterday about his adjustment to fullback, a position that’s becoming more involved in UCLA’s offense.

Rather than sticking to “head-on” blocking, Iese will likely be used more as a pass-catcher. The Bruins have yet to find the right spot to fully take advantage of the rising sophomore’s athleticism and 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame, though he did have one touchdown grab last season.

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Spring notes: Linebacker Isaako Savaiinaea leaves practice with injury

– Inside linebacker Isaako Savaiinaea left UCLA’s practice early on Wednesday morning with his left arm in a sling. The severity of his injury is not yet clear, but he did not return to the field.

The Bruins are without both their inside starters from last season, with Jordan Zumwalt training for the NFL draft and Eric Kendricks still recovering from ankle surgery. Savaiinaea started one game last season, and was a candidate to play next to Kendricks this fall. Sophomore Jayon Brown and senior Ryan Hofmeister are also in the rotation.

Still, the team is thinner at outside linebacker, where a stable starter has yet to be found opposite Myles Jack (who actually worked with the inside linebackers during individual drills). Junior Kenny Orjioke is still the favorite to secure that spot, but rising sophomore Deon Hollins and true freshman Zach Whitley are vying for the job too. Continue reading

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