The Crack of Pads

The first day in pads saw some new and extremely fun drills from the new coaching staff. Here's an in-depth breakdown of practice, going through each drill and keeping you up to date on the quarterback situation, both offensive and defensive units as well as individual players...

It was a spectacularly perfect day. We can only surmise that the Gods, aware of UCLA's spring schedule, decided to make one corner of the world perfect for at least one afternoon by combining a still pristine Spaulding field with warm and sunny afternoon sunshine as only SoCal can deliver in April and the Bruins under Karl Dorrell in pads for the first time. Can I get a witness?

 

All right, enough with the religious experiences. Talk to the BRO regulars, Chas, LPL, PRIDE and the Prof, they were there soaking up the sublimity if you want more effusiveness. I'll walk you through the practice and provide highlights and commentary when appropriate.

 

Segment 1:

 

North Field: The practice started off with a bang with a drill designed to improve punt/kick-off coverage and returns: a returner was placed on one sideline, and a coverer on the other, 50+ yards away. On the whistle, the coverer would run full speed toward the returner. At the first hash mark stood a Bruin with a banana pad: the coverer's job was to avoid/slip this blocker. At the second hashmark stood another Bruin with a bag: the coverer's job was to deliver a blow to this blocker but keep his head up, control the blocker, shed him, find the ball, and ‘thud' the returner. Many in attendance had never seen the Bruins run this drill before.

 

As you might imagine, there were some impressive collisions during this drill. Ones that stood out to were Asi Faoa running over and through Antwuan Smith as a returner, Manuel White knocking blocker Nick Amendola backwards 2 feet, Dennis Link doing the same to Tommy Bright, and Matt Ware decleating Chris Steck.

 

South Field: QBs spent time throwing to the TEs, which seems to indicate that the staff wants a real rapport to develop between the two units. The DL spent time working on individual techniques.

 

Segment 2:

 

North Field: The entire O practiced screen passes, which was the new element of the passing game added today. Without revealing actual play diagrams, there were several clever wrinkles the Bruins practiced today that look different (and better) than screen plays we've seen in the recent past.

 

This drill was also important because it demonstrated the new first string OL: Shane Lehmann at RG, Mike McCloskey at C, Eyoseff Efseaff at LG, and Steve Vieira at LT, with Ed Blanton and Paul Mociler rotating at RT.

 

Segment 3: Individual unit work

 

The best drill during this segment involved the DBs' tackling drill. The ball carrier and the tackler were positioned 20 yards apart in the center of the field. The ball carrier has to run between a cone placed 10 yards ahead and 10 yards towards the sideline and the sideline, simulating a back trying to turn the corner. The tackler's job is to maintain the proper inside-out leverage on the ball carrier, preventing him from cutting back, but still having enough momentum/burst to make the tackle if the carrier attempts to make it a footrace to the sideline. Given the number of former stud RBs among the Bruin DBs, you can see the challenge. Most of the tacklers succeeded, although Matt Ware did cutback cleanly inside Jibril Raymo one time with a strong move. The greatest difficulty the tacklers experienced was when the carrier would sprint without hesitating to the sideline; most tacklers were leery of a cutback, and when it didn't come, they could not get their head in front of the carrier. Tyler, take note.

 

Segment 4:

 

The highlight of this segment was the QBs throwing to the WRs: new routes from those run last week were put in, and the coaches (Dorrell and Embree) would move around in the passing zones to force QB and WR to choose the same "option."

 

Segment 5:

 

There was a lot going on as practice started to hit its stride.

 

North Field, East End: The O practices running plays with the other O guys playing D front 7. #2, Akil Harris, and Wendell Mathis are getting the primary reps at TB; White also gets a few, but is mostly playing FB throughout this practice.

 

North Field, West End: The WRs practice running stride for stride with a DB, fending him off with the inside arm, and then separating at the last second for the catch. The WRs are paired off according to ability: junior Taylor and Jacque Lazarus, Tab Perry and Craig Bragg, etc. Again, a drill not heretofore seen at a UCLA practice, but one that could make a huge difference during the season...

 

On the South Field, West End, the DBs practice covering a FL and a TE on their half of the field. The LBs and the DL separately practice their own techniques (form tackling, gap control, etc.) at the East End.

 

Segment 6:

 

The QBs/RBs/WRs go "7 on air:" no D, just run routes, throw passes and catch them. The 1st string group consists of Matt Moore, Tab Perry, Craig Bragg, Blane Kezirian, #2 and the Manuel the Manster. Marcedes Lewis is a co-#1 with Blane at TE.

 

The D practices formation recognition.

 

Segment 7:

 

On the North Field, the WRs and DBs go 1-on-1.

 

On the South Field, the highlight of this segment is the running game: the front 8 (including the SS) vs. the O minus the WRs. While the drill is not full speed, it is close: RBs get knocked down periodically, but mostly just get thudded or wrapped up. Tyler Ebell gets the first four carries, and gets stuffed three times (first two by Rodney Leisle, the third by Brandon Chillar). The DL has a strong side and a weak side, so RL may line up at either RT or LT, depending on the wide side and the formation. It is easy to see that RL is ready to start the season right now...

 

On Ebell's fourth carry, he gets to the corner but Jarrad Page is there and probably would have made the tackle.

 

Harris gets the next four carries. Justin London stuffs him when he goes right on the first carry, and then London scrapes down the line and fills the gap on the O's left side the very next play, very reminiscent of Robert Thomas. (Somewhere, the Clash started playing...) On Akil's next two carries, the first went basically nowhere, and the second got him past the DL in part because the snap was bobbled by John Sciarra, but John recovered well and got Akil the ball, throwing the D a change of pace.

 

Wendell Mathis got the next four carries, and the 3rd string DL was on the field: Wendell's second carry would have definitely got him into the secondary, as he showed a nice cut left off a blast play up the middle. Another time, Wendell tried a spin move that Dennis Link didn't get faked by. Wendell also took one carry wide left that may have gotten him to the corner, but it looked like the pursuit may have gotten him before he got there.

 

Ebell got the next three carries, his best run being an off-tackle play to the right side which appeared to work. Finally, Akil got the last two carries, both of which got past the DL. The first was especially effective, because it involved a little misdirection: the FB led right, but Akil got the ball heading left. After a steady diet of FB lead plays, the D was lulled to sleep and Akil popped one.

 

Some observations: the D knew what was coming (all run plays, all the time), so I expected them to get the better of the battle, and they did for the most part. The LOS was a stalemate: neither side moved the other back. Which didn't leave the RB much room to run! This drill basically got the guys used to hitting again. The "snap to the LOS" the OL has been practicing seemed to ebb a little bit during this drill, as I could tell the OL were preoccupied with the problem of moving the DL off the LOS. I'm hoping I'll recognize this phenomenon in the Other Team's OL come September!

 

Segment 8: 7 on 7 passing game, North Field

 

If there's a time a QB is going to look good during a practice, it is during 7 on 7: no rush, no sight impediments. It only gets tougher beyond 7 on 7. So your faithful correspondent, knowing how obsessed y'all are with the QB thingy, decided to attempt to keep some stats that may interest you on certain players during this drill:

 

Matt Moore threw 9 passes that I recorded, completed 4 of them, had 3 passes dropped (one deflected off Marcedes and was intercepted by Page), was inaccurate with one pass and had one pass that was just defended well.

 

Drew Olson threw 7 passes that I recorded, completed 4 of them, had 1 pass dropped (a perfect bomb to Taylor down the left sideline), was inaccurate with no passes and had one pass that was just defended well.

 

Bragg was thrown to one time, with one drop. Perry was thrown to one time with one catch. Taylor was thrown to four times with two catches and one drop (the bomb from the DO). Marcedes was thrown to 3 times, 1 catch, 2 drops.

 

Many of the throws were short in nature: RBs out of the backfield, hitches, slants, drags, checkdowns, etc. There were some shots taken downfield, especially seam patterns. The D for the most part kept the ball in front of them and closed on the receiver after the catch. Dennis Link probably made the best play of the segment when he, from his MLB spot, got back into the deep middle zone to make a leaping one-hand deflection of a perfectly on-target pass from the DO to a FL running a post pattern. Taylor's drop was around the goal line; the safety flashed by at the last second and may have obscured Jr.'s vision.

 

Segment 9: PAT/FG

 

Justin Medlock has a very good leg. He's not in Nate Fikse's class yet, but we'll see. Josh Roenicke is working as a holder, as is Garrett Lepisto. Adam Craven was the LS.

 

Segment 10: Kick-Off Coverage

 

Segment 11: Scrimmage

 

Matt Clark was running as 1st string LC, with Matt Ware at RC. Marcedes Lewis saw time at both FL and TE.

 

During the 11-on-11, here were the throwing stats:

 

Matt Moore threw 10 passes that I recorded, completed 5 of them, had 0 passes dropped, 0 intercepted, was inaccurate/bad with 2 passes and had 3 passes that were just defended well. One play that stood out was a P/A bootleg to the right. Matt held on to the ball for a few seconds, and then tried to throw across his body to a TE going towards the sideline. Matt Clark saw the play develop, waited, and then jumped the route, but didn't make the easy interception because of a drop. When people mention "inexperience" of a QB, this is what they mean: throwing late over the middle in an attempt to make a play is a sign of inexperience/immaturity (instead of realizing that this play has bad news written all over it and trying to get out of it with minimal damage but in all cases still in possession of the ball). Basically, about 40% of the time during this scrimmage, Matt was forcing something that wasn't there.

 

Drew Olson threw 6 passes that I recorded, completed 2 of them, had 2 passes dropped, and was inaccurate/bad with 2 passes.

 

There were about 30 plays in the scrimmage. Stand-outs include:

 

-     The DO hooking up with Idris Moss for a 20+ gain on a post.

-     Xavier Burgess in fast off the edge for a tackle of Mathis in the backfield on a lead play.

-     Matt Clark dropping a pick of Moore on a roll-out to the right

-     Perry only giving a one-hand, no-leap effort of a high slant pass from the DO

-     Consecutive completions from Moore to Moss (checkdown over the middle) and to Taylor (post pattern)

-     Mat Ball broke through and batted down a screen pass from Moore

-     Nice screen to Akil, who was stopped by a nice pop from Keith Short

-     Moore hitting Tyler all alone in the right flat due to a blown coverage, good for 12+ yards

-     The DO to Moss on a slant, good low throw.

-     Screen pass from Sciarra to Mathis going left, nice moves by Wendell, best screen of the scrimmage.

-     Sciarra to Antwuan Smith on a square in, for a nice gain.

-     Sciarra swing pass to Akil Harris just before the rush gets to him, Akil blazes up the sideline for a nice gain.

-     Callahan connects on a fly pattern to Moss on the right side to end the scrimmage.

 

After Dorrell addressed the team, they broke for flexibility training and additional work. The best sight was the QBs and WRs practicing fly patterns. Less than 50% were completed, but watching the trajectory each QB was able to employ was instructive. Matt Moore is able to put the most air under the ball because of his arm strength. Drew Olson throws a fly with a flatter trajectory, meaning that it needs to be more accurate to be as effective, in general.

 

Luminaries in attendance at today's practice included Dan Guerrero, fresh from painting the town in the Crescent City, and some new basketball coach who was complaining about having trouble getting his daughter transferred into UCLA. Don't ask me, UCLA's a football school, I don't know why they even bother with that sport.

 

On the recruiting front, also in attendance were highly-targeted recruits Dale Thompson, the tight end from Corona Santiago, and running back Terrell Jackson from Corona Centennial. We'll have a video interview with Thompson coming soon...

 

 


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