UCLA hosted a crowd of well over 200 fans for Saturday's practice, and it's really just astounding how different the atmosphere is than even two years ago. From the opening moments of practice, fans were surrounding the field as UCLA kicked off the day with their version of the Oklahoma drill "The Battle of the Bruins." There's just such an energy around practice that simply wasn't there prior to the start of the Mora era.
Saturday was the first day of full pads, and UCLA went full tackle for much of the scrimmage portion of practice. It was the kind of atmosphere where physical types of players thrive, and you can easily say that Ishmael Adams, despite still being in a red jersey, stood out. Adams is already clearly the most talented of the defensive backs, with a combination of tenacity and toughness that is difficult to match. He had probably the play of the day against Devin Lucien during 1 on 1's where he tipped the ball just in front of Lucien's hands and then came down with the interception.
Lucien also had his moment against Adams, grabbing a ball out of his outstretched hand for a touchdown. Like Adams, Lucien has clearly been the most impressive wide receiver thus far in spring ball, and it was a real treat to watch them matched up against each other during the 1 on 1's. Fabian Moreau, who actually has looked pretty good against most of UCLA's receivers, has been completely overmatched against Lucien, and it appeared that Adams tapped in to take on the challenge.
The running back competition is getting very interesting. Paul Perkins had a nice enough day, but did put a ball on the ground during the contact portion. Jordon James was probably the best running back today, and he is clearly making more of an effort to run straight ahead, making one or two cuts but not dancing behind the line of scrimmage. The most shocking development is just how good Malcolm Jones has looked. He told me after practice that he's spent the last seven months just working out, and it shows. He looks lighter on his feet, and is even showing some better flexibility. He took a huge hit and fumbled at one point, but aside from that, he looked very good—probably better than he's looked in practice since I've been covering the team (October 2011). The running back situation being as strong as it is is probably the most welcome development of the spring.
Nate Iese again got some work at defensive end and looks like he's using his quickness to his advantage, executing one nice spin move that got him free for a would-be sack. He's obviously undersized for the position, at probably 245 pounds or so, but if he can put on a good ten pounds or so in the offseason, he could be a serious contender for the two deep.
The offensive line is cobbled together at this point, with Alexandru Ceachir sitting out, Simon Goines sitting out (while still recovering from the knee),and Alberto Cid sitting out, so there's not a ton to glean from it. Torian White, Ben Wysocki, Kody Innes, Jake Brendel, and Xavier Su'a-Filo were the starters, with Su'a-Filo at left tackle. Torian White, physically, looks stronger than a year ago, with some added bulk.
The defensive line looks much more stout, even with Ellis McCarthy sitting out the first practice in pads. Brandon Willis had some moments on Saturday, once getting into the backfield for a sack. Physically, he looks a good five or ten pounds heavier than he ended last season. Kylie Fitts is another one of those players who looks better in pads than without, and while he's a little short on technique, he's already physically strong enough to play.
Brett Hundley had a better day than his first two days, but still seems like he's taking some time to get back into the swing of things. He does look a little bigger in the haunches than last season. T.J. Millweard started off the day throwing very well, but faltered a bit by the end. His motion got a bit longer and he started throwing a few ducks. Jerry Neuheisel looked OK, but again showed his ultimate limitation, throwing a few swing passes that easily could have been picked off for touchdowns given the lack of arm strength.
Dietrich Riley separated his shoulder, further thinning out an already extremely thin defensive back rotation. Luckily, Librado Barocio has emerged as a desperation defensive back who can actually play a little. He has decent athleticism, climbing the ladder to knock a ball away from Shaq Evans at one point. Anthony Jefferson showed off his strength in the end zone, being able to body up receivers and knock them off their routes.
Devin Fuller was probably the second most impressive receiver today, looking extremely physical, surprisingly. UCLA's defensive backs are taught to bump at the line of scrimmage, and every time, Fuller shook them off like it was nothing. With his hands, strength, and good speed, he has a good chance to be one of the top three targets this season.
Darius Bell continues to impress with his route running. For not having great quickness, he just has a knack for getting open.
Kenny Orjioke is bigger than a year ago, and could push Aaron Wallace at ouside linebacker. He has an intriguing combination of size and speed.
Commited players in attendance: Tyler Foreman, Thomas Duarte, Jayon Brown, Johnny Johnson, Mossi Johnson, and Kenneth Clark. Foreman was actually coaching a little bit early, telling the defensive backs to "watch the slant" during a drill. He was hanging out with 2014 defensive back Denzel Fisher and 2015 defensive back Iman Marshall.
For a list of most of the recruits in attendance, see our running thread. 2015 and 2016 Suwanee (Georgia) North Gwinnett receivers Daniel Imatorbhebhe and Josh Imatorbhebhe were also in attendance. Physically, both look very good.
Wide receivers coach Eric Yarber tore a ligament in his quadriceps during one on one drills and was carted off the field.
Saturday Practice Report
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