Wednesday on Spaulding Field, the UCLA Bruins hosted the El Camino College Warriors as the two teams played a 7-on-7 game. With no wind to speak of, the conditions were perfect for the pass-only action. The field was dry overall, but a little soft towards the south end of the field.
The format of the scrimmage was that each side was on offense for 10 to 20 plays or so a turn. But the O was allowed to march down the field as long as it could keep moving the chains within three downs, starting from about the 30. If the QB held the ball for more than 3 or 4 seconds, it was considered a sack and a five yard loss was assessed.
There were about 40 to 50 Bruin players in attendance. There were no coaches present, naturally. The QBs called the plays on offense, and the defensive players called their own game. Substitution was liberal, with each string seeing equal action. All four QBs were in attendance, with Brian Callahan getting one possession less work than Drew Olson, Matt Moore and John Sciarra, who each had two possessions.
There were about 10 Bruin OL and DL in attendance to watch the action, cheer on their teammates, foster team unity, and satisfy their own football jones, apparently.
Almost all of the players who showed up are presently enrolled in summer courses and are participating in the Bruins' off-season strength and conditioning program, which consists of running drills at 6:30 am, followed by weightlifting. (Doc Kreis is on the case. Manny White said emphatically that the team will be in better shape this year than in any previous year.)
The Bruins get together every Tuesday and Thursday in the late afternoon (after classes are over) for 7-on-7 work among themselves.
All the Bruins were glad to see somebody to scrimmage with besides themselves.
The Bruins started on D. Taking the field at the LB spots were: Wesley Walker (Will), Justin London (Mike) and Xavier Burgess (Sam). (Spencer Havner and Brandon Chillar were not present.) At DB, it was Joe Garcia (LC), Ben Emanuel II (FS), Eric McNeal (SS) and Matt Clark (RC). Glenn Ohaeri saw a ton of action throughout the scrimmage, first at nickel, but also at SS. Jebiaus Brown traded off with Garcia at LC, and Nick Amendola got some reps at MLB.
The strategy for succeeding at 7-on-7 is to, early on, throw to the backs on flares, swings and check downs a lot. This tires and frustrates the D, who wants to be challenged and threatened with something vertical. After lulling the D to sleep and getting them winded/anxious, then it is time to take some shots down field as drop depth starts to decrease.
Overall, El Camino worked this strategy to perfection. UCLA came out in a cover 2 zone, with Justin London covering deep middle and the outside LBers taking underneath inside zones. Sometimes ECC flooded zones, hitting the underneath receiver, and sometimes they ran everybody off and then dragged a WR from the far side into the open zone. Very few passes traveled farther than five yards downfield. A UCLA defender would arrive at the same time as the ball to limit the yardage gained.
In general, the Bruins looked very good playing zone. They reacted to the ball once in-flight, they closed quickly and they communicated well with each other, constantly calling out where receivers were headed, what patterns they were running, etc.
Some outstanding plays in zone were when Xavier Burgess swiveled 180 degrees without losing speed to deflect a seam pass to a TE, and when Matt Clark outran an ECC WR during a streak route to get ahead of the WR and almost intercept the bomb.
Over time, the D shifted to more man coverage in order to avoid a "death by a thousand paper cuts." This more aggressive D resulted in far fewer completions, as the ECC QBs were forced to attempt more passes to WRs. It also resulted in more "sacks," as the ECC QBs often had no one to throw to even remotely open.
The one INT for the Bruins we saw was made by Xavier Burgess, who snagged a pass that was tipped by Matt Clark.
The most remarkable thing about this play…wasn't anything to do with Xavier. It was Marcedes Lewis' post-play imitation (much to the delight of his teammates) of 1) Matt Clark tipping the pass and then trying to figure out where to run to get the eff out of Xavier's (240+ lb) way, and 2) Xavier's surprise at catching the ball and dawning realization that he was now supposed to take it to the house, without stampeding any teammates or innocent bystanders in the process. Hopefully the NFL will leave enough open time in Marc's life to perfect his physical comedy schtick professionally. He also does a mean back-pedal imitation…
On to the O…
Drew Olson got the first series for the Bruins, and he completed 8 of 11 passes, including a TD toss. One pass was incomplete due to a drop, and there were two inaccurate passes. Ten of his passes were to WRs (completing 7), and only one to a RB. The curl was his favorite route, hitting on 4 of 4. He was also 2 on 2 on drags and outs, and 1 for 1 on slants. He went deep twice, but missed on both. On short passes, he was 4 for 4 and he was 2 for 5 on medium distance passes. Drew tended to work the outsides, going 5 for 6 to the left, 3 for 4 to the right and 1 for 1 over the middle.
Craig Bragg, Junior Taylor and Garrett Lepisto each had two catches, and Ryan Smith and Maurice Drew had one each. Tab Perry had one drop. Drew tried to go long unsuccessfully to Marcedes and Bragg once each. The TD was on a slant to Lepisto from the right slot.
Junior Taylor looked particularly good catching the ball on the drive, snagging two bullet curls with only his hands and defenders draped around him.
It did not appear that Drew was forcing the ball into double or blanket coverage at any time. It is notable that Drew threw almost exclusively to his WRs, eschewing the conventional dink and dunk strategy, and pulled it off.
Maurice Drew is so quick and powerful that the somewhat soggy Spaulding Field couldn't handle the force he applied, producing huge divots as a result of the moves he threw on the flare pass he caught. His teammates whooped with delight to see the newbie get into the action…the kid has some special talent, with the fastest feet on the field to our eye.
Matt Moore's first possession did not result in a TD. He went 3 for 6, with 2 drops and one defensive deflection. He threw 4 to WRs, completing 2, 1 to the TE (complete) and 1 to a RB (dropped). One of his completions was a long bomb down the left side to Jacques Lazarus, who blew by the CB and waited for the ball just a bit, allowing the CB to get a hand on him and down him. Matt was also 2 for 2 on curls, one to Taylor and the other to TE Blane Kezirian. Tab Perry had a drop, as did Akil Harris, which ended the drive…
The deflection occurred on a post corner to Ryan Smith that was thrown into pretty good coverage. A superior play by the DB would have produced an INT.
While I didn't keep detailed stats on John Sciarra, John had a good day throwing the ball. He went third for the Bruins, working the field well, and hooked up with Junior Taylor on a 50 yd bomb down the right side for a TD. Later in the day, he had another TD toss, this time to Marc Lewis on a 20 yd seam pattern. Marc put his basketball skills to use, skying high above the ECC defenders to catch the ball with two hands at its highest point for an acrobatic TD.
Brian Callahan also had a good day reading the defense, and throwing the ball with heat and accuracy in the short to medium routes.
On Drew Olson's second series for the Bruins, he completed 6 of 8 passes, including another TD toss. One pass was incomplete due to a drop, and one was purposely thrown away to avoid a "sack."
Four of his passes were to WRs this time (completing 3), 3 were to TEs and again only one to a RB. He was perfect on the curl route, hitting 3 of 3. Other routes he hit were an out, a corner and a check down. He went deep once, but missed. On short passes, he was 2 for 2 and he was 4 for 5 on medium distance passes.
Drew spread the ball around to a number of receivers, showing the depth UCLA has in the receiving corps. Blane Kezirian was 2 for 2, and Brett Mitchell, Tyler Ebell, Damian Scott, and Garrett Lepisto each had one catch. Marc Lewis had a drop.
On Matt Moore's second possession, he went 2 for 5, with one INT, one drop and a sack. Tab Perry had a juggling catch on a curl (Tab is another divot maker with his size, speed and moves), and Jimmy Stephens was the outlet on one catch that he quickly zoomed up the sideline.
Alex Ghebreselassie had the chance to make a big splash on a deep post from left to right. The ball was perfectly thrown, right on target, Alex was far behind the secondary…but Alex could not make the makeable catch.
The INT occurred when Matt tried to hit Blane Kezirian on a seam pass, but he was bracketed by a safety and an LB, with the safety coming away with the pick.
The Bruins didn't sustain any injuries that I could see, nor did the players from El Camino. While not tall in stature, they executed their schemes well and were good sportsmen. The woofing that occurred was light and playful ("ya gotta show me something, rook!" etc.)
The Bruins were focused and serious, but still had a great time playing the game. There was a lot of coaching and encouragement going on. Ben Emanuel is a coach on the field, watching and absorbing everything that is going on. The LB trio are best friends, it seems, they are inseparable on and off the field. The RBs were a little frustrated the ball wasn't coming their way more often, especially after a spring where the RBs were a prime focus of the passing game. Manuel White, Wendel Mathis, and JD Groves were often open (that's the way it is in 7-on-7), but the QBs elected to go elsewhere with the ball.
Ed Blanton, Shane Lehmann, Thomas Patton, Robert Chai and Chris Kluwe (practicing punting before scrimmage) were just some of the non-participating OL and DL that showed for support. Keith Carter attended and was walking without any support and seemed to be moving very well. Even Ricky Manning Jr. was out to check on his young guns.