Notes: Ellis McCarthy injured, Brandon Willis playing OL


– Ellis McCarthy missed both Monday and Tuesday’s practices with a head injury. Mora said the starting left end is improving, but not yet asymptomatic. If he isn’t cleared by Saturday’s game, freshman Kylie Fitts will see increased snaps.

Running back Jordon James (ankle) is still doubtful to play against Cal. Considering how capable Paul Perkins is as well as the depth the Bruins have at tailback, I’d be very surprised if James gets any carries.

– Buried on the depth chart, junior defensive lineman Brandon Willis asked coaches for a chance to play on the other side of the trenches. He started taking some snaps at guard today, and could be used there in late-game situations or in an emergency.

“It was his idea to go over there and give it a shot,” Mora said. “He could be a two-way player for us. … He’s our Ironman.”

“The kid wants to help the team. Because really, who wants to be an offensive lineman?,” Mora joked. Continue reading

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Notes and quotes: UCLA 58, Nevada 20

– UCLA’s 647 yards of offense against Nevada Saturday was the ninth-highest total in program history. It was the most by the Bruins since last season’s 36-30 win over Nebraska.

– Quarterback Brett Hundley missed on a few deep throws, but was otherwise excellent in his first game as a team captain. He opened scoring with 37-yard run, a zone read that echoed his collegiate debut. He had two rushing touchdowns in a game for the third time in his career (also at Colorado, vs. USC last season). His 274 passing yards also came with a pair of touchdowns.

– The UCLA defense struggled to contain Wolf Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo early on, something head coach Jim Mora attributed in part to “first-game jitters.” The Orange County native had 77 of his 106 rushing yards in the first half, and finished with two touchdowns.

“We have to fix that,” Mora said. “I don’t want to put it on the players, necessarily, jumping out of gaps. We have to do a better job coaching it. We have to look hard as a staff.” Continue reading

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Jordon James leads UCLA’s surprising ground attack

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PASADENA — So much for those backfield worries.

For weeks, the UCLA staff had insisted it would use as many as five backs in the rotation. Even after a depth chart was released, running backs coach Steve Broussard insisted starter Jordon James was only “penciled in” — and still may be in a two-way timeshare.

In front of 60,562 at the Rose Bowl, the 5-foot-9, 194-pound back set the tone Saturday night by rushing for a career-best 155 yards in a 58-20 romp over Nevada.

He’s no Johnathan Franklin, an All-American who set career and single-season rushing records at UCLA last season. But in his debut as a No. 1 back Saturday, James looked better than he ever has in blue and gold. Continue reading

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FINAL: UCLA 58, Nevada 20

After a slow start against Nevada, UCLA ran away with an impressive 58-20 win to open the season. Most notable was Jordon James’ debut as a starting tailback. The 5-foot-9 tailback had entered the season averaging 3.3 yards per carry; after three quarters, he already had 155 yards on 21 touches.

Stat of the game? UCLA’s 345 total rushing yards. The Bruins’ best mark in 2012 was 344, in a 36-30 win over Nebraska.

Some questions still exist with a defense that bent early, but the ground game looked like a strong complement for Brett Hundley’s superlative quarterback play.

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Jim Mora says to give his UCLA depth chart ‘zero credence’

When he wants to be, Jim Mora is as good an interview subject as any head football coach in the country: candid, witty, opinionated. There’s a reason that his transition from the NFL to college was bridged by a stint in the broadcast studio.

Then there’s the self-admitted “paranoid” side, the part that makes him loath to do anything that he doesn’t deem necessary. Take the tentative depth chart he released Monday night, one that goes four or five players deep at certain positions.

“Here’s how much credence I would put in the depth chart,” Mora said Tuesday afternoon, squeezing his right thumb against his index finger. “None.” 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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Freshman DE Eddie Vanderdoes returns to practice

SAN BERNARDINO — Eddie Vanderdoes may have been a little too eager.

Limited by a tight back nearly all of fall camp, the freshman defensive end bull-rushed without pads on his first play Friday morning, his first significant taste of college football. After being scolded by Mora, he dialed the intensity back a little too much.

“As you guys noticed, he didn’t quite understand the tempo there,” head coach Jim Mora said. “He got a little bit aggressive, so we sent him off for a couple of plays. He told me after practice he feels good.

“We just have to really work him back in — not at a snail’s pace, but at a pace where we don’t overload him too early. You can certainly see the level of ability.”

Vanderdoes pegged his progress at about 85 percent. The five-star recruit wasn’t sure exactly what ailed him, but described symptoms that indicated a slipped disc. He said treatment included stretching and a lot of work on the trainer’s table.

“The last few days, I was still hurting a little bit,” Vanderdoes said. “I wanted to go in, but they wouldn’t let me.”

PASS-BLOCKING KEY FOR TAILBACKS

For weeks, UCLA has stuck with the message that it will use five different tailbacks. Through that time, however, junior Jordon James has taken the bulk of the first-team reps.

One reason? His pass-blocking is improving, which bodes well for his chances to become the official starter. Continue reading

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Fall camp preview: Running backs

After watching Johnathan Franklin smash multiple school records last season, UCLA will need multiple bodies to fill the void at running back. No single set of feet can hope to match what Franklin did as an All-American and Doak Walker runner-up, rushing for 1,734 yards and 13 touchdowns.

The Bruins’ coaching staff has long said that the team will rely on a committee approach; if Franklin was “The Mayor,” then 2013 will be led by a city council. The test in San Bernardino will be to see if anyone has the potential to eventually emerge as a true No. 1 back.

Key returners: As a backup last season, Jordon James carried the ball 61 times for 215 yards — good for a pedestrian average of 3.5 yards per carry. Contrast that with Franklin’s 6.1 ypc, and his chances of becoming a star seem unlikely. The 5-foot-9, 193-pound junior flashes impressive runs in practice, but still hasn’t found a way to translate that into games. Continue reading

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