This third week of practice was probably the most lackluster UCLA has had under Jim Mora, but it's important to keep in mind that, even so, it would have been one of the better weeks under Rick Neuheisel. The tempo has slowed, somewhat, and the pace hasn't been quite as breakneck, as the team worked more on installation and situational drills. Also, the injuries continue to mount, as the physicality of the early weeks has continued, with live tackling incorporated to the team drills each day. But the sheer number of plays, and the quality of the work being done, is so much greater than it was last year that it's hard to complain.
With the third week in the books, we take a look at where we stand with some of the key storylines of spring practice.
After the first two weeks, it wasn't easy to nail down a leader, but we decided that, given the overall body of work, Richard Brehaut was probably in the lead for the starting gig. Now, after a week in which he had one of his worst practices, and the quarterbacks in general performed rather poorly throughout the week, we're not willing to go even that far out on a limb. Not one of the quarterbacks has really risen up to take the job. Brehaut was probably the most consistent up until this week, but then he sandwiched a bad Thursday practice between two mediocre performances. Brett Hundley has had moments where he really has looked the part of a potential stud, but then has moments where he looks like a redshirt freshman. Kevin Prince has been up and down throughout camp, but tends to show a little more of that leadership factor that coaches like to see in a quarterback. On Saturday, in somewhat of a scrimmage setting, the quarterbacks put in as close to a dead-even, mediocre performance as possible.
It's really up in the air at this point, and unless something drastic happens in the next two weeks, it's hard to see this competition getting settled with finality in the spring. The coaching staff would love to name a starter by the end of camp, so that the entire team knows who the focal point will be heading into summer workouts, and so that Noel Mazzone can begin tinkering with the offense to suit his quarterback, but it's looking increasingly likely that that won't happen, unless they make a more or less arbitrary decision.
At last count (on Saturday) 30 players on the official roster were not suited up to practice, including Aaron Wallace and Patrick Larimore who were hurt during the scrimmage. That includes a few players who were hurt before spring, but several more who were not. Included in that list are seven potential starters (Joseph Fauria, Ricky Marvray, Greg Capella, Wade Yandall, Andrew Abbott, Jordan Zumwalt, and Larimore) and several more who are important for depth (Darius Bell, Damien Thigpen, John Young, Jerry Rice Jr., Brandon Sermons, Anthony Barr, Wallace, and Tre Hale, to name a few). Many of the injuries are of the sore hamstring, sore quad variety, but it has to be worrying that through three weeks of practice, almost a third of the team is doing conditioning work on the sidelines.
As Coach Mora promised, it has been a physical, up tempo spring, but you have to wonder if they'll be able to keep up this kind of physicality through the last two weeks, given the increasingly shallow depth chart.
The Offensive Line
Speaking of depth, the offensive line lost a couple of members this week, with Casey Griffiths taking a medical retirement, and Connor Bradford electing to move on from the program. Although neither was expected to factor into the two deep, there remain some holes in the depth chart. Through the third week of practice, the depth chart is looking more or less like so:
LT: Xavier Su'a-Filo, Brett Downey
LG: Jeff Baca, Alexandru Ceachir
C: Jacob Brendel, Kody Innes
RG: Albert Cid, Ben Wysocki
RT: Torian White, Michael Padovese
White has looked like a talented, but skinny redshirt freshman. He's actually got decent technique, and looks to be picking things up from Adrian Klemm quite quickly, but he's simply got a lot of work to do in terms of gaining strength and size in the offseason. Klemm likes his upside, though, and he has a better chance of improving over the summer than Downey, so you have to figure he'll walk into fall camp as the first string right tackle, no matter what designs the coaching staff might have for Simon Goines.
The rest of the first string is quite thin. It's probably a stretch for Brendel to be a starting center at this point, largely because of strength issues, although he's also developed some difficulties snapping the ball. It's also probably a stretch for Cid to be a starting guard, because he has some pretty big deficiencies pass blocking. Capella and Yandall's health is of paramount importance for the offensive line heading into the fall.
Lost in some of the talk of the quarterbacks and offensive line performing poorly is that, at least from a pass rush perspective, the defense has looked dominant at times during the spring, especially so this week. On Thursday, UCLA's first and second string outside linebackers practically lived in the offensive backfield, and Datone Jones finally seemed to get untracked from the defensive end position. After having a weak pass rush for several years, it seems that UCLA might actually be able to generate something credible out of the 3-4.
Even outside of the front seven, the secondary has looked surprisingly decent, given the number of injuries. Anthony Jefferson, in particular, has looked much better over the last week. In his matchups with Devin Lucien, he's generally shut Lucien down over the last week, by locking him up just off the line of scrimmage and playing him very physically. While he can't keep up with Lucien in the open field, he seems to be doing a much better job of compensating for that.
Third Week in Review
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