UCLA 34, Utah 27: Safety Anthony Jefferson


Safety Anthony Jefferson grabbed the first two interceptions of his career Thursday night against Utah’s Travis Wilson, whose 44 pass attempts were the most UCLA has seen this season. “I think it was a great test for us,” Jefferson said. “Utah’s a great football team. They came out, took their shots early, and I think we made our plays.”

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Inexperienced UCLA secondary eager to start season

He’s eager to watch them play.

No matter that the group returns only five games’ worth of combined starting experience, or the idea that most regard the unit as the team’s weakest link. Jim Mora is ready to see his UCLA secondary take on Nevada Saturday night — even if, he joked, he has to peek through his fingers.

“I want them to just be able to play free and not worry,” said the Bruins’ head coach. “Be able to cut it loose and let their skills take over. I think they’ve worked hard enough on the mental part that they know what’s going on, they know the adjustments.

“I don’t want to see them play hesitant.”

After weeks of hitting their own teammates — first in San Bernardino, then back at home in Westwood — the Bruins are itching to finally get on the field against some different uniforms. That may go double for the defensive backfield. Continue reading

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Friday night notes: Eddie Vanderdoes commands double teams

Half a day after his first extended practice, Eddie Vanderdoes started turning heads.

Still working his way back from a tight back, the 6-foot-3, 310-pound defensive end commanded regular double teams — quickly backing up his ranking as the No. 21 recruit in the country. Even when going up against starting offensive linemen Caleb Benenoch and Torian White, Vanderdoes more than held his own.

Vanderdoes looked more bothered by fatigue Friday night than by the back issues (likely a herniated disc) that had sidelined him for over a week. If the injury doesn’t flare up again, the Auburn, Calif., native will be a beast.

– Before practice started, quarterback Brett Hundley tried to drill a fast-moving camera drone from at least 40 yards away. As teammates and coaches formed an eager audience, he missed the target by just two or three feet. Even got plenty and oohs and aahs out of the crowd.

– Devin Fuller is such a difficult cover coming out of the slot. Continue reading

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Scuffle ends UCLA evening practice early


SAN BERNARDINO – UCLA’s Monday evening practice ended early when a fight broke out between a few players.

The trouble began near the end of the session at Cal State San Bernardino when defensive end Cassius Marsh began scuffling with an offensive player. Tensions rose between offense and defense, escalating when receiver Shaq Evans ran in from the sideline and began jawing loudly with defensive back Anthony Jefferson.

Head coach Jim Mora halted practice half an hour early and made the entire team run widths of the field for roughly 10 minutes. Continue reading

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Freshman Sean Covington takes first practice punts


SAN BERNARDINO — Early in Friday’s afternoon practice, Sean Covington launched his first punts wearing a UCLA jersey.

There was one that arced high and back, landing some 60 yards away. Another swung short and hooked left. He’s still a freshman, after all.

Ranked one of the top punters in the country, the St. Petersburg, Fla., native was the first member of the 2013 class to fax in his signed letter of intent on Feb. 6. He has the unenviable task of following Jeff Locke, one of the best punters in UCLA history and a recent fifth-round draft pick.

Locke may be the most difficult player to replace for the Bruins, who are trying to better a 9-5 record amidst higher expectations and a tougher schedule. That Covington worked with Locke earlier this summer is a good start. The freshman said the two, roughly 90-minute sessions at UCLA were very productive. For one, they share a dominant foot.

“You don’t see many lefties,” Covington said. “That was a lot, just seeing his form and his steps and just how he drops. You can critique what you do and what you’re not doing, what you need to work on.”

Covington acknowledged the pressure in following a two-time Ray Guy semifinalist and fifth-round draft pick, but said it won’t faze him. Still, there’s a long way for him to go before he can fill Locke’s shoes.

“I think the key with Sean is his operation time,” head coach Jim Mora said. “When you go from Jeff (Locke) and Kevin McDermott, the snapper, they were so efficient from snap to kick. … With Sean, it’s just that operation. That’s so critical. But he has an excellent leg.”

“I don’t know if he’ll be the Jeff Locke that we saw that could pin teams down inside the 10-yard line on a pretty consistent basis. That’s kind of an art.”

» Priest Willis has played cornerback so far in San Bernardino, backing up his status as a top-100 recruit. During his recruitment, however, some thought the 6-foot-2 Arizona native would be better off at safety.

Asked if he was glad Willis fit at corner, Mora began dropping his own credentials.

“I’ve coached defensive backs my whole career,” he said. “I’ve been lucky to been around some — Rod Woodson, he’s a pretty good corner. All-Century player. So I would think that people would trust my judgment when it comes to defensive backs. Continue reading

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UCLA football post-spring: Defense and special teams

Defensive line

Can UCLA’s defensive front survive the loss of a first-round pick — the team’s first since 2006? Cassius Marsh, pegged as a third-round talent in some early projections, now succeeds new Green Bay Packer Datone Jones as the Bruins’ best defensive end. By most observations, he’s matured since 2011, a year that saw him storm out of spring practice and later suspended two games for an October brawl at Arizona.

“Sometimes, he may stop on that line, but not over it,” said defensive line coach Angus McClure. “I call it a ‘controlled insanity.’ You want to go to that line but you don’t want to go over it. Certainly, he’s learned to manage it.”

The rest of the line, however, is a muddled with injuries. Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Ellis McCarthy both sat out spring while rehabbing from their respective hip and knee surgeries, while nose tackle Brandon Tualiaupupu tore his ACL in mid-April. Continue reading

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Monday night practice notes: Anthony Jefferson shedding injury history

Maybe the wind helped as it whipped passes off course Monday night, making for the worst quarterback performance yet through UCLA’s spring practices. Or maybe this is how Anthony Jefferson was always meant to play.

The rising junior was once a four-star athlete in the class of 2010, a rangy 6-foot-1 specimen pegged by Rivals.com to have “blue chip” size, agility and ball skills. But a variety of ails set him back, from a broken foot his freshman year to back surgery in 2011.

Last season, his eight appearances resulted in just five tackles — four of which came at Washington State. On Monday, however, he looked like a solid rotation player, sticking close to receivers on several routes and using his long frame to break up passes.

“I think that finally, he’s feeling more healthy,” head coach Jim Mora said. “I think finally, AJ is getting back to what he once was physically. I think it’s showing in the way he plays, the confidence he plays with and the plays he’s making on the ball.” Continue reading

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