Spring football is done, and over three months still stand between us and the start of UCLA’s third season under Jim Mora — one that comes with national title aspirations and accompanying media glare. This blog will cover the status of each position group moving forward. Next up …
Myles Jack is already UCLA’s all-everything superstar, and did nothing this spring to suggest that his sophomore effort will far short of the already sky-high expectations. He continued to excel in coverage, and will play behind the ball when the team deploys a nickel formation. After finishing with just one sack last season, he’s also spent extra time focusing on his pass rushing moves.
He won’t practice at running back until the season starts, but that only gives him more time to cement his role as the Bruins’ defensive leader.
The question marks facing the team in its post-Anthony Barr era lie elsewhere. Continue reading →
– UCLA has run its nickel defense almost exclusively through the last couple of weeks of spring camp, something due partly to injuries but also to a bit of a schematic move away from the team’s 3-4 base.
The Bruins are deep in the secondary after returning all four starters from last season and getting a breakout performance from safety Tahaan Goodman. They are less so at outside linebacker, where the rotation currently consists of Myles Jack, Kenny Orjioke and Deon Hollins. Going into nickel alleviates that problem a bit, and also allows Jack to move behind the ball and flash his excellent pass coverage skills.
“I’m not going to put myself into this 4-2-5 world, or if I’m going to be a 3-4 guy,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. “I’m going to let the players dictate where we go.”
At least one player likes the change.
“I hope we stay that way,” Hollins said. “We initially moved more nickel because we had a lot of injuries, but our nickel’s looking really salty.”
– Outside linebacker Kenny Orjioke looked good during one-on-one drills against running backs this morning. The rising junior defended three straight passes before giving up back-to-back catches to fullback Nate Iese — the latter of which was made over strong coverage by Orjioke. Continue reading →
Graduate transfer Malcolm Bunche left Wednesday’s morning practice early with an undisclosed injury, giving most of the first-team reps at right tackle to redshirt freshman Kenny Lacy. Starting right guard Alex Redmond has seen increasingly fewer contact reps with his left hand still wrapped in a cast; early enrollee NaJee Toran looks like the clear No. 2 behind him.
Guard John Lopez was also absent from practice, forcing even more juggling through the unit.
“It’s hard, and they’re going to make mistakes,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. “But in the long run, it makes them understand how all five fit together.”
– Mazzone talked a bit about the development of redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard, who will most likely claim the backup quarterback spot over Jerry Neuheisel by the start of the season. Neuheisel actually looks much more composed and mistake-free than he did even nine months ago, but Woulard’s upside is so much higher. Continue reading →
True freshman Jayon Brown has moved back to linebacker after working as a safety in fall camp and early in the season. He’s still a little light at 206 pounds, but junior Eric Kendricks was around 210 his first year in the program.
“He’s got some size potential,” Ulbrich said of Brown. “His dad’s a bigger guy too. If he got to 220, he’d be perfect.”
Jayon Brown’s big fumble recovery this past weekend has landed him Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
In the second quarter of 45-23 win against Colorado on Saturday, UCLA’s true freshman jumped on top of a loose ball dislodged by fellow first-year Cameron Judge. The recovery gave the Bruins the ball on the Buffs’ 14-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Brett Hundley found Devin Fuller in the end zone, bumping UCLA’s lead 21-10. Continue reading →
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 →
CULVER CITY – If Anthony Barr’s growing hype can be distilled into a single sequence, it would be one on Nov. 17, 2012. That day, the UCLA linebacker blew through USC’s line untouched, crushing quarterback Matt Barkley on second-and-seventh.
Less than three minutes later, UCLA beat USC 38-28, winning the rivalry for the first time since 2006. Shoulder separated, Barkley never played another collegiate down.
Asked about the moment at Friday’s Pac-12 Media Day, Barr laughed.
“I want to know why the tackle just let me go, for whatever reason,” Barr said. “He should be standing up here and talking to you guys, because he’s the reason why I was able to make that play.” Continue reading →