UCLA spring camp position reviews: Defensive backs

UCLA Bruins defensive back John Johnson (7) during a NCAA college spring football game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., Saturday, April 24, 2015. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/ Pasadena Star-News)

UCLA cornerback Johnny Johnson runs with the ball during the Bruins’ “Spring Showcase” at the Rose Bowl on April 24, 2015.
(Keith Birmingham/Staff)

Like UCLA’s offensive line, the secondary is a unit that has grown significantly during the Jim Mora era. Back in 2012, the Bruins were maligned for their pass defense, one that ranked eighth in the Pac-12. In the last two years, they haven’t ranked lower than fourth.

With every starter returning, there’s plenty of depth in the defensive backfield, one that has emphasized positional versatility to facilitate the use of shifting schemes and to better secure against injuries. This fall, the X-factor will be whether or not any one player makes the leap into becoming a dominant, shutdown corner.

The best candidate is likely still senior Fabian Moreau, who looked fantastic in spring and fall camp last year before a very uneven 2014 season. The former running back was burned repeatedly through the first half of his junior campaign, but eventually found more a rhythm as the year wound to a close. Position coach Demetrice Martin said in April that Moreau often appeared to be in great position for a play, then explicably stopped running all the way through. The Florida native has since made an effort to work on his ball skills and fix that habit. Continue reading

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Demetrice Martin breaks down UCLA’s veteran secondary

UCLA defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin said this week that he’s coaching the deepest secondary he’s ever had in Westwood — one that will also welcome a highly touted freshman this summer in four-star recruit Dechaun Holiday.

Much of that has been due to Martin’s own recruiting efforts, landing multiple four-star prospects every cycle. This year, the Bruins’ top five defensive backs have 80 combined games of starting experience in this system.

The assistant coach broke down a few of his players.

On cornerback Marcus Rios, who put on more than 20 pounds since the end of last season:

“Now he’s feelin’ a lot more cushion for the pushin’. I always joke with him, say he took his legs off and attached them to his shoulders, put his arms on his legs. He’s able to run into guys, feeling real muscular. … He’s fearless, man.”

On cornerback Fabian Moreau, who struggled out of the gates in what was a heavily hyped junior campaign:

“I call him a Cadillac. He’s a such a smooth, powerful guy, where sometimes he feels like he’s in great position, and then it looks like he relaxes. Continue reading

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UCLA spring camp notes: Kolton Miller takes first-string O-line reps

— Offensive lineman Simon Goines was present at today’s practice, but remained on the sideline when UCLA went into 11-on-11 drills, presumably giving him a day of rest given his long history of leg injuries. With Caleb Benenoch taking on a similar workload, first-string reps at right tackle went to redshirt freshman Kolton Miller.

The former four-star recruit had looked good as a backup left tackle through spring, and he continued to hold his own moving up to play with the starters. Former four-star recruit John Lopez, who hasn’t really been in the two-deep, took Miller’s place as the backup left tackle.

— After giving every quarterback a share of first-team reps on Saturday, UCLA has gone back into the two-by-two rotation. Today wasn’t the most enlightening session, as the Bruins mostly eschewed downfield plays for runs and goal-line work. Continue reading

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UCLA spring camp notes: Marcus Rios improving at cornerback

— UCLA held its fifth spring practice this morning at Spaulding Field, and Marcus Rios made a strong case for the day’s best play. During 11-on-11 scrimmages, the cornerback tipped Jerry Neuheisel’s pass into the air, and contorted himself to secure the interception.

It was the latest moment in what has been a solid camp so far for the redshirt sophomore — made even more impressive by the fact that he fought off a life-threatening fungal infection less than two years ago. He wasn’t 100 percent even last season, when he came up with a game-saving interception in a win at Cal.

Another offseason should give him even more time to improve his conditioning and hone his skills. He’s already a firm part of the two-deep right now, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him eventually push for a starting spot at cornerback.

— The Bruins continue to structure practices by giving two quarterbacks team reps each day. Today, the rotation gave way to Neuheisel on the first-string offense and Asiantii Woulard behind him. Neither has changed significantly through the course of spring camp, with Neuheisel’s lack of arm strength looking like a factor that could severely hamper him in the race to become starter. Continue reading

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