UCLA post-spring position outlook: Special teams

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 has covered the status of each position group moving forward. Last in the series is …

Special teams

Recently, special teams hasn’t been a major concern for UCLA. Over the last two seasons, the team blocked 12 kicks and punts — an FBS total matched only by Rutgers. Last year, it ranked top-20 in both opponent punt and kick returns; in four of the five years prior, the Bruins ranked outside the top 40 in the former and the top 100 in the latter.

A key difference looms heading into this fall: Jeff Ulbrich is no longer the UCLA special teams coordinator.

Promoted the defensive coordinator, Ulbrich will continue coaching inside linebackers but surrenders lead oversight of the unit that helped extend his own professional career. Outside linebackers will be charged to new assistant Mike Tuiasosopo, who also holds the title of special teams coach. Continue reading

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Spring notes: Owamagbe Odighizuwa looks dominant in UCLA spring game


– After a season spent rehabbing from multiple hip surgeries, Owamagbe Odighizuwa looks like the dominant force everyone expected him to be as a five-star recruit.

The rising senior was unofficially credited with two sacks in UCLA’s spring game, but appeared to have at least five by the press box consensus– as well as several near-misses. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound end moved to the right side of the defensive line as an edge rusher — a spot usually filled by linebacker Kenny Orjioke, who was absent — and had little trouble blowing past left tackle Caleb Benenoch.

He also dropped back into pass coverage one a few plays, something that defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said he’s experimenting with. Continue reading

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VIDEO: Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich talks about ‘losing’ UCLA spring game


Coaching UCLA’s white team in Saturday’s spring game, Jeff Ulbrich ended up on the wrong side of a 28-0 blowout.

Asked how he felt, he said afterward: “Bitter. Miserable. I hate losing ping pong. I hate when a guy pisses longer than I do. I don’t like to lose.”

Ulbrich also talked about the performances of defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa, as well as linebackers Myles Jack and Deon Hollins.

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Spring notes: UCLA trending away from 3-4 base defense


– 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

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Spring notes: Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich relishes breaking up scuffles


– Thursday’s practice featured a fight that started, as usual, when a few receivers and defensive backs got in each other’s faces. The main culprits: Jalen Ortiz and Tyler Scott on offense, and Ishmael Adams and Tahaan Goodman on defense.

Head coach Jim Mora stopped practice to admonish the team as a whole. Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich talked a bit about managing player emotions, but actually sort of enjoyed jumping in and pulling players apart.

“It brings me back to my playing days,” he said. “I kind of like it. Maybe too much. The potential of someone hitting me … it was awesome.”

– Ulbrich also said that the experiment of putting Zach Whitley at outside linebacker is over. The four-star early enrollee looks far more comfortable inside, where he has returned since missing Monday’s practice due to a bruise.

“It was a thing where, we thought he could maybe compete outside and that might be the best situation for our defense,” he said. “I don’t think that’s true anymore.” Continue reading

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Spring notes: Jim Mora impressed by running back Craig Lee


– After redshirting this past season, Craig Lee looks like he might be the most talented runner on UCLA’s roster right now. The former four-star recruit still needs to improve his pass protection to ensure more reps, but he reeled off a number of nice runs on Saturday.

“He’s flashed the first two days without pads,” head coach Jim Mora said. “He didn’t look like anything different (in pads). He stood out to me.”

– Mora was similarly impressed by freshman Mossi Johnson, who still has a brace on his left knee after tearing three ligaments in January 2013 and grayshirting. The coaching staff didn’t decide to make him a full-time receiver until about three or weeks ago — partly based on his preference and partly on positional need. Continue reading

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Mike Tuiasosopo to coach outside linebackers, special teams

New assistant coach Mike Tuiasosopo will coach outside linebackers and special teams, UCLA officially announced today.

He fills the role vacated by Jeff Ulbrich, who was promoted to defensive coordinator after Lou Spanos left for the Tennessee Titans last month. Tuiasosopo had spent the bulk of his career as a defensive line coach, most recently at Colorado (2011-12) and Arizona (2004-10). Continue reading

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UCLA assistant Jeff Ulbrich named defensive coordinator

Linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich has been promoted to defensive coordinator, making official a promotion that had been expected for weeks. He fills the vacancy left by Lou Spanos, who left the Bruins last month to become the Tennessee Titans’ linebackers coach.

Ulbrich was also the team’s special teams coordinator, a unit that leads the country in blocked kicks and punts over the last two seasons, and was top-20 last fall in both kick and punt return coverage. The 36-year-old was nominated for the 2013 Broyles Award for college football’s top assistant coach. Continue reading

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Titans hire UCLA defensive coordinator Lou Spanos

The Tennessee Titans have hired UCLA defensive coordinator Lou Spanos as their new linebackers coach, the NFL team announced today.

Before joining the Bruins’ staff two seasons ago, Spanos had worked in the pros for 17 years, including a stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers marked by two Super Bowl wins.

New Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt was the Steelers tight ends coach, and later offensive coordinator, while Spanos was there.

“He has put together a great body of work during his career,” Whisenhunt said in a statement. Continue reading

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