Redshirt decisions a ‘delicate deal’ for Jim Mora

SAN BERNARDINO — Kenny Orjioke is 6-foot-4, 240 pounds. Through the first five camp days in San Bernardino, he has looked like a potential star, a heavy-hitting blur who could top of UCLA’s already impressive pass rush.

As a 17-year-old true freshman, the linebacker played mostly on special teams. He finished with two tackles in five games. Should he have redshirted instead?

“It’s kind of a delicate deal,” head coach Jim Mora said. “You’re always trying to win right now. If you see a guy who can help you, my instinct is to use him.

“But I think you have to be sensitive to the kid. If you’re not going to use him to the extent where you’re really getting something out of him and he’s really getting something out of the experience — you hate to waste that year just to get a few plays.”

Mora wasn’t talking about Orjioke, but it’s a perennial conversation for any college football program: Use a promising youngster immediately and let him learn through experience, or stash him for future dividends? (Orjioke said in spring that not redshirting made him value his remaining seasons more, pushing him to work harder.)

The freshmen who prompted the discussion late Monday morning were Jalen Ortiz and Darren Andrews, two receivers who stand at about 5-foot-9. The pair made their share of plays over the middle Tuesday, with Andrews impressively holding on to a ball as he bounced off defensive back Anthony Jefferson’s tackle attempt.

Both could add speed to special teams, or be saved on the sidelines as they watch and learn.

Another example in this year’s class is 17-year-old defensive tackle Kenneth Clark, a player who could easily fit in the rotation. The question is whether a limited number of plays as the No. 3 nose tackle will benefit more than a redshirt season.

Asked if he’s handling redshirts differently than last year, Mora said no: “I felt like all the freshmen that played (last year) got something out of it.

“I guess if you look back and say, ‘Is there any player that didn’t redshirt, that played, that it was a waste for?’ — I don’t get the feeling that there was.”

BENENOCH CLOSE TO STARTING

UCLA’s starting offensive line isn’t set in stone, but the order is at least wet concrete. Freshman Caleb Benenoch has run almost exclusively with the first-team offense for most of the camp’s first five days. So far, he’s handled the task with aplomb — easily setting himself out as the best of the seven-man freshman haul. 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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Right guard rotation key to improving UCLA’s offensive line


SAN BERNARDINO — After one of the worst practices he’d ever seen, Adrian Klemm was asked how comfortable he felt with his offensive line.

Frustrated, the UCLA assistant coach said he expected to start two or three true freshmen.

After the Bruins started preseason training camp in San Bernardino, Klemm clarified: He meant that two or three of his seven freshmen will compete for, not necessarily win, a spot.

“More often than not, they’re not as technically sound as you’d like them to be,” said Klemm, who was named Pac-12 Recruiter of the Year by both Rivals.com and Scout.com. “We have three or four of those guys that are physically close.

“We have probably three of them that have a long ways (to go) in terms of body composition. Two that came in pretty poor shape.” Continue reading

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Fall camp preview: Offensive line

With less than four weeks until the start of UCLA’s fall camp, let’s examine each of the Bruins’ position groups as they try and best last season’s 9-5 record — the program’s highest win total since 2005.

First, the offensive line, one of UCLA’s most problematic areas last season. A thin and relatively inexperienced unit, the Bruins’ line gave up 52 sacks and committed numerous penalties. After landing seven touted freshmen, it could be the most improved group on the roster.

Key returners: Continue reading

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Adrian Klemm expects at least two freshman starters on offensive line

Adrian Klemm didn’t mince words. What took place Thursday morning was the worst offensive line practice the position coach has seen at UCLA.

Done without pads due to the Bruins’ increasing injury count, the sloppy session neared closing time with a brutal sequence of penalties, dropped balls and even a safety.

Klemm has established himself as one of the nation’s elite recruiters, but reinforcements won’t arrive until fall. Right now, an offensive line that allowed 52 sacks last season still doesn’t have any stable anchors besides center Jake Brendel and All-American Xavier Su’a-Filo. Continue reading

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Four-star OL Caleb Benenoch picks UCLA

Jim Mora said Saturday that this two-week span before bowl game practices is big-time for recruiting. This morning, the team landed a major coup, reeling in 6-foot-6, 321-pound offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch from Seven Lakes High in Katy, Texas.

Rated four stars by both Rivals and Scout, his commitment has bumped UCLA’s class up to No. 10 in both rankings. Continue reading

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