First Fall Practice Report

UCLA's first practice is a fairly light one, but it's clear already that the new freshmen have the talent to elevate UCLA's play this year...

UCLA's opening practice of San Bernardino was a relatively short one, as the team recovered from the vigorous training regimen in San Diego under the supervision of Navy Seals.

That being said, just judging by the level of athletes that UCLA was able to put on the field, this is a completely different team than even the one we saw in spring.

Asiantii Woulard was probably the best true freshman quarterback we've seen in his first practice—and we're including Tracy's fifteen years doing this. His motion is arguably better than Brett Hundley's right now, and nearly all of his throws were darts. It's one practice, sure, but you could count his bad throws on one hand. When you factor in that this guy has only been playing quarterback for two years, and probably only started 20 games in that time, it's astounding. Body-wise, he might be a little taller than Hundley, and he looks, actually, stronger. We'll repeat that it's just one practice, but it's clear, at the very least, that UCLA has a legitimate backup quarterback option for Hundley this year.

It's not even just Woulard, though. UCLA hasn't had this kind of collection of athletes in a long time. The true freshmen just stand out. Tyler Foreman looks all of 6'2, and built, and runs well. Eddie Vanderdoes is clearly already a mountain of a man, looking like a third year player. Craig Lee has packed on weight, saying after practice that he's gained 10 pounds since his senior season and is now 185. The list goes on—Priest Willis looks like he might have a legitimate chance to play cornerback, even at 6'2. Not to gush, but it's clearly noticeable how different the talent coming in is compared to what was already in the program.

Down to the brass tacks. Nate Iese has switched back to tight end, after Ian Taubler moved to defensive end. We were skeptical it would happen, since the coaches seemed loathe to commit to the change in spring, but, as we said in December, Iese has the athletic gifts to excel at the position. From talking to Iese, it sounds as if the move is permanent, and he expects to play the position this year. UCLA plays both a blocking Y and a pass-catching Y, and Iese has the ability to play both positions well. He's about 240 pounds now, and that looks like it'll be a good weight for him.

Darren Andrews looks well built, if only about 5'9, 5'10. As was touted, he also looked pretty quick and very fast. There wasn't much full speed running as the team recovered its legs, but Andrews looked like he had another gear.

It's a good thing that Woulard looked better, since T.J. Millweard had a pretty rough outing. He's back to throwing with a bit of a wonky throwing motion, and he threw a good amount of ducks with it. When he was fatigued in spring, this also happened, so you have to hope that it's simply the case that he's tired from San Diego and needs to recover.

Eldridge Massington and Damien Thigpen still have braces on their knees, but both participated. Thigpen still has a noticeable limp, but Massington didn't look bad. UCLA didn't do any full speed cutting, so we'll have to wait and see how much Massington will end up doing.

Christian Morris looks like he's packed on quite a few pounds of bad weight in the offseason, and if we had to pick a redshirt candidate from the incoming freshmen linemen, he'd be near the top of the list. Caleb Benenoch is in better shape, but still looks like he could use some time in the gym.

On the flip side, Poasi Moala looks quick and mobile, and, really, only about 270 pounds. With his body, you could easily see him getting to 290 to 300 and still maintaining his mobility.

During team drills, there were a number of tipped passes, and you could really see the increased athleticism in the way the defenders dove for balls. First, Fabian Moreau got a true pick on a Hundley throw down the sideline where he just stepped in front of the pass, showing off some nice instincts. Then, Priest Willis adjusted in mid stride when Aaron Wallace tipped a ball at the line and caught a pass. A few passes later, a Millweard throw was tipped at the line, and Ellis McCarthy, of all people, made a diving catch for the interception. As an aside, McCarthy is in phenomenal shape compared to where he was last year, running around and not getting winded. He looks like he's about to where he needs to be weight-wise, and we again think he could be a factor in the nose tackle competition. Finally, Jayon Brown made an interception on another tipped pass, again, diving for the ball.

It's hard to glean too much from who was first team and who was second team in the first practice. Largely, UCLA stuck with its experienced players on the first string, and most of the freshmen worked on the second team. We don't expect that to continue to be the case, since this first practice was mostly a walkthrough.

Anthony Barr looks much thicker through the arms, and Kenny Orjioke also looks much bigger. If those two end up starting on opposite sides, it'll be effectively like having a couple of 4-3 defensive ends bookending the three down linemen.

On the offensive line, if Xavier Su'a-Filo is making a switch to tackle, it hasn't happened yet, as he slotted in right where we left him at left guard. Simon Goines and Torian White manned the tackle spots.

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