First Week of Practice Overview, Part 1

After one week of fall practice for the UCLA football team, here's a rundown of how individuals and units on offense look. Next: The Defense...

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks

Cory Paus has looked a little rusty, as he'd probably readily admit. His arm looks stronger, but it appears he's still getting his timing and accuracy down. It's actually pretty typical of Paus; he starts off at the beginnning of every fall or spring rusty but then gets it back pretty quickly.

There is a little worry at back-up quarterback. Ryan McCann has looked, well, rusty. He is throwing tentatively and, like Paus, his timing and accuracy isn't there yet. Scott McEwan has been somewhat disappointing in the first week of pratice. After making great strides last year, looking fairly good in the Sun Bowl last December, and then again looking like he had improved in spring practice, McEwan didn't look like he had built on that much in the first week. He is, though, another, that takes a while to warm up. It's pretty important that he does, given Paus's history of injury and McCann's still apparently recovering from his.

It also becomes even more important given that the only other quarterback with any experience, Roman Ybarra, just left the team. Ybarra leaving is a curious thing. He was starting to look like the second-best quarterback on the squad behind Paus, improving his consistency and long-ball accuracy, building on an already pretty strong arm, size and athleticism. Ybarra left because he believed he would be able to play elsewhere, which begs some questions. He came into UCLA knowing that he'd sit behind Paus and McCann for three years. More than likely, at the very least, once Paus and McCann graduate, he would have been given a scholarship, if not before (given how good he was looking in practice). In two years, he would have been competing as a redshirt junior for the starting position against redshirt sophomore John Sciarra and possibly two redshirt freshmen, which isn't bad, given that he'd be the quarterback with the most experience in the system. The word is that he would have made the trip to Alabama had he stayed on the team, which is a good indication that UCLA valued him pretty highly and had plans for him.

True freshman John Sciarra looks pretty small, and he's playing with a broken left hand, which has to hinder his ability to perform, but he, nonetheless, has looked good. He throws a stronger ball than you would imagine and he's relatively accurate, and he seems to have a great feel.

As a group: Not fantastic, but solid. There is a drop-off of quality after Paus.

Running Backs

DeShaun Foster has been clearly the standout on the offense and, actually, the entire team. He has all of the great attributes we've seen from him in the last three years, but now looks like he's taken it to another level: Bigger, stronger, faster and quicker. And, most importantly, he looks more decisive and less tentative.

The depth at running back looks very good. Akil Harris is the first back up, but he looks like he still hasn't yet turned it all on in fall practice. He'd better soon, because breathing down his neck is Manuel White, who has picked up where he left off in spring. In fact, he looks like he's leaner and quicker. He's personally been responsible for some bell-ringing among the defense this fall. As has been well-documented, White could used quite often in a two tailback set along with Foster. With Foster in the game, the defense will have to key on him, and having White then able to flare out for a swing pass is pretty exciting to think about. White is probably the best when he's out in the flat catching a pass, going one on one with a linebacker or defensive back. But he also looked pretty good pounding the ball into the middle, literally moving the pile a few yards on a couple of plays in Saturday's scrimmage.

The freshmen running backs were the pleasant surprise of the scrimmage, with Tyler Ebell, Wendell Mathis and Jason Harrison all having good showings. Ebell looked like he did in high school – quick and fast, with great moves, not needing much room to make something happen. Mathis, perhaps, has the most potential. At almost 6-0, he only weighs 185 pounds right now. Bulk him up a bit, get him stronger and Mathis could be very good. In the scrimmage – and in practice – he's looked very fast and skilled at finding a hole quickly. He's been the long-run breaker in practice among the running backs. Harrison has also looked good, with some very shifty moves and a good burst. As Coach Toledo said, there is a possibility one of the freshman might not redshirt.

The fullbacks have looked, to put it mildly, outstanding. Ed Ieremia-Stansbury is in terrific shape and looks quite a bit quicker. He's hitting holes with explosivness, for a fullback. Matt Stanley has also played well in practice. And the guy to watch, not only for the future, is Pat Norton. Norton is a guy that just is a plain good football player. He's also in very good shape, and looks good carrying or catching the ball. In the scrimmage, after Spencer Havner intercepted a pass, Norton tackled him by literally picking up off the ground, turning him sideways and throwing him down. Norton is a guy that UCLA needs to get on the field however they can. Ray Cassaday hasn't had the chance to show much since switching from linebacker to fullback so far in practice.

As a group: Excellent. Probably along with the defensive line, the best group on the team. It has the great talent at the top, solid, experienced back up, and then some exciting young talent.

Offensive Line

The OL is probably the most difficult to assess since, first, they do most of their work in the trenches where it's difficult to discern, and secondly, they work out mostly in the far corner of Spaulding Field, which makes it very difficult to see.

The solid backbone of the line is the tackles, Mike Saffer and Bryce Bohlander, and the senior center, Troy Danoff. Bohlander has looked more mobile and athletic in the first week. The coaches have said that all three have performed very well so far. The two guard positions and depth are the lingering questions. It would be an upset at this point if Eyoseph Efseaff and Shane Lehmann didn't start at the guard positions for the Alabama game. Efseaff has looked very good in practice, mean and tough. Lehmann has been somewhat slowed by illness. With Blake Worley leaving the team due to concussions, it makes the offensive line quite a bit thinner. The UCLA coaches have been working Paul Mociler at left guard and tackle and Steve Vieira at right guard and tackle, preparing them to back-up at either position on their respective sides. Mociler says he's 100% recovered from his knee surgery, and he's looked very good, particularly at guard. Vieira has been a good surprise, showing some good quickness and aggressiveness at both guard and tackle. Vieira could be what the offensive line needed – a young guy to step up in the void of Blake Worley. John Ream looks like an entirely capable back up at center for Danoff. In fact, he has played very well on the second team offense and has really impressed the coaches.

The freshmen OLs have only played on the third- and fourth-strings. If one of them had to play, probably the most ready is Matt Mosebar, who looks big, athletic and good technically. Robert Cleary has looked solid at guard, but needs to get stronger. Collin Barker has lost some weight over the summer, down to about 285 or so. It's improved his quickness but he'll need to get stronger. Ed Blanton was looking like a possibility of the first option if a freshman OL had to be used, but he sprained his ankle in practice last week, which will set him back. The coaches are very impressed with Mike McCloskey. He ran a sub-5.0 40, and has shown that he has some toughness to him. The freshman have been liningup with Mosebar and Blanton at tackle, Cleary and Barker at guard, and McCloskey at center.

As a unit: Up and down. At times, they've meshed well and been effective. At others, they've seemed out of sync a bit. But after a week, the unit looks promising.

Receivers

The last two falls Brian Poli-Dixon has looked incredibly impressive; big and quick, like an NFL receiver playing against college players. Then he subsequently hadn't lived up to that in the first few games of the season. This fall, Poli-Dixon hasn't looked as spectacular, and looks tentative. Perhaps not looking as good this fall will result in him playing exceptionally well at the beginning of this season. Tab Perry is the captain of the eye-ball test team. He's really big and put-together, fast and is smooth and quick in his routes. He's had a little trouble hanging onto the ball, though, in the first week. Ryan Smith and Craig Bragg have actually been the best and most consistent receivers on the team in the first week of practice. Smith runs the best routes, looks quicker and in better shape than before, and is very sure-handed. Expect him to have to carry quite a bit of the weight for the receivers this year. Without wanting to overhype him, Bragg has looked very good in his first week – not only explosive and fast, but very elusive and sure-handed. Jerry Owens has looked good so far. He's not going to burn anyone with blazing speed, but has looked solid, with good technique and hands. Devon Reese and Cody Joyce haven't had too much opportunity to show much so far. Jacques Lazarus, the true freshman, has some talent, with good size and great athleticism and decent hands. He'll have to step up the effort, though, to compete, this year, or any year.

Bryan Fletcher has been very impressive at tight end, looking smoother and more comfortable catching the ball. With Mike Seidman out and probably unavailable for Alabama, Blane Kezirian and Dennis Fox are the primary candidates to be used as the second tight end. It's only been a week, but it looks like Fox has the edge so far, catching some nice balls in the scrimmage and looking fairly strong in practice. But don't count out Keith Carter, who looks good enough to use as a true freshman. He has good size and nice hands. If Seidman looks like he's going to be out for any sizeable chunk of time, or not 100% for a while, Carter could very well not redshirt. It's a distinct possibility he could play against Alabama.

As a unit: A bit of surprise, since you would have expected the unit would look like it had more talent at the top and not much depth. In the first week, the depth isn't that big of a concern, with Smith and Bragg looking very good. But the talent at the top, Poli-Dixon and Perry, need to step it up before the Alabama game. The depth at tight end for the Alabama game has been blown out of proportion; Fletcher will carry the load and, if they need Fox or Kezirian, each could easily spell Fletcher.


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