Saturday morning marked UCLA's first practice in shells of the fall, and, naturally, there was considerably more contact than in the first few days. In fact, there was a dustup between Ben Wysocki and Myles Jack which got both of them kicked out of practice about halfway through.
This practice was also the first one that used refs, and the defense was ticketed for penalties almost a dozen times through the team periods and one on ones. Judging by the reactions of the coaching staff, particularly Mora, penalties are going to be a point of emphasis this year, which stands to reason given the statistics from last year.
Practice began with special teams, and it looks like Shaquelle Evans, Randall Goforth, and Devin Fuller are getting the primary reps as punt returners. Sean Covington had another day much like yesterday—booming several punts, and then shanking one. He clearly has a very big leg, and you have to like his upside at the position.
Fabian Moreau worked primarily with the 1's at cornerback, and again looked good. For the first time in four practices, he didn't have an interception, but he made nice plays on the ball, and covered really well. Anthony Jefferson once again looked pretty good in 1 on 1s, and was still at safety during team drills. He told us after practice that he'll play wherever the coaching staff wants him, and that nothing is set in stone yet. It certainly appears that way, with Priest Willis and Ishmael Adams alternating at the other corner spot today.
Adams had the best day in 1 on 1s, and actually was the only one who could cover Devin Lucien during the period. Lucien was probably the best receiver on the team today in most drills. As we've said many times, he has arguably the most talent in the receiving corps, and if he can put it together mentally, he could be a very big threat for UCLA this year.
Devin Fuller was once again nearly uncoverable on short passes in 1 on 1s, but he also had a really nice play in skeleton, burning a corner and getting behind the safety for a nice deep post from Brett Hundley on the first play of the period. At the very least, you have to expect he'll be a good outlet for Hundley this year when the pocket breaks down.
Priest Willis was a little up and down, doing a nice job bodying up Lucien on a 1 on 1, and then getting burned deep by Jordan Payton on another one. During team drills, he looked better.
Malcolm Jones, who learned that he would not be granted an additional year of eligibility, ran with power today, in the first day of some real contact. He had one really decisive run through the defense where he made one cut at the line of scrimmage and sliced through the secondary. He looks almost certain to play this year.
Darius Bell was also tough to cover during 1 on 1's. Being an ex-quarterback, he run very precise routes, and his hands, even with a broken bone in the left hand, are great.
Brett Hundley had a decent day, but struggled to move the ball during the two minute drill near the end of practice. Jerry Neuheisel actually did the best job of it, until he threw an interception to Jayon Brown near the end zone. That's four days in a row where Brown has made pretty significant plays on the ball.
While the skill players went through 7 on 7, the offensive and defensive linemen went through pass-blocking 1 on 1s, which are always a fun gauge to see how strong and tenacious the different linemen are.
There were definitely some standouts. Left tackle Simon Goines matched up well, against everyone but Anthony Barr. The rep was right after Barr had a little exchange of words with Jim Mora, so he looked pretty fired up. It's not exactly fair to Goines to have to match up against Barr, but especially a fired-up Barr. But Goines contained smaller, quicker guys like Keenan Graham and Myles Jack.
A bit surprising was that Conor McDermott, the redshirt freshman tackle, also was able to contain his rusher, especially when the rushers were Eddie Vanderdoes and Eli Ankou.
Among the other tackles, Poasi Moala looked very good, able to move his feet exceedingly well and keep his balance. He was able to stay in front of Jack and Deon Hollins fairly easily. It helps when you have long arms like Moala's.
The other veteran starters, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jake Brendel and Torian White, all fared well. Su'a-Filo had just a couple of reps and did very well, holding up Ellis McCarthy pretty easily and going just about even with Cassius Marsh. Brendel didn't get beat, and White was good in just a couple of reps.
The freshman who has been running with the ones at left guard, Caleb Benenoch, came out about 50-50. He contained Kenneth Clark, but then won and lost reps against Kylie Fitts.
Freshman offensive lineman Christian Morris struggled the most, unable to move his feet and forced to lunge. He actually tackled Hollins from behind after Hollins had gotten around him.
Marsh looked the most effective among the true DLs, McCarthy won about half his reps, and Brandon Willis had a couple of reps where he looked quick off the line. Vanderdoes, from what we saw, had just one rep, limited because of his back. He said after practice that he's feeling better, though.
Moala continued his good play with the second string offensive line. He matched up against Deon Hollins a couple of times and, so far, he's been the only one able to contain him. Then, on the next rep, he stacked Eli Ankou and pushed him to the ground. For someone who's still a bit underweight, he has some real strength.
Jordan Payton looked good during team drills, at one point catching two consecutive passes over Erick Zumwalt in the corner of the end zone. At this point, for our part, it's a toss up between Payton and Lucien—Payton has extremely reliable hands and deceptive speed while Lucien is probably a more spectacular playmaker downfield. Either way, it's a virtual guarantee that both play significantly this year.
Eldridge Massington looked good again, and seems to be regaining his mobility very quickly. He actually told us after practice that other guys on the team think he's limping, but it's really just the brace making his leg step more heavily. He says he feels 100% physically, and it'll just be a process to get back mentally. He said also that the doctors want him to wear the brace all year, but he wants to ditch it as soon as possible.
The penalties were definitely an issue. UCLA's defensive linemen and linebackers were offsides a handful of times, which got the whole defensive staff pretty incensed. Pass interference was also a problem, but it looked like at least a couple of the calls were going against walkon defensive backs, so I'm not sure how much you can take from it.
Caleb Benenoch was once again the primary right guard with the first string, and he was joined by Torian White, Jake Brendel, Xavier Su'a-Filo, and Simon Goines again.
Asiantii Woulard had a few hiccups during team drills, struggling to make quick decisions during team drills, which you expect from a freshman. He's an immense physical talent, though, and when he knows where to throw the ball, it's uncanny how quickly it gets there.
UCLA ended practice with field goal kicking, and Ka'imi Fairbairn was good on all of his kicks, including the dreaded 52 yarder from the left hash to close out practice.
We'll have more for you from the evening practice, which starts at 6:00 PM. That practice will be in full pads.
Saturday Morning Practice Report
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