UCLA's first practice of the spring was a good one, and it provided some early insight into how the team could look this year and where certain players can slot in.
One of the biggest takeaways, when you step back for a moment and put this year in context of the last decade or so of UCLA football, is that UCLA actually has three or four guys who can throw a football pretty well. Between Brett Hundley, Asiantii Woulard, Mike Fafaul, and Jerry Neuheisel, UCLA has at least four semi-competent quarterbacks who can be counted on to hit throws in drills and team practice. Given how lackluster the quarterback position was throughout most of the 2000's, it's significant that UCLA can actually have effective practices where receivers and defensive backs are challenged by the quality of the quarterback play.
Hundley looks like he's improved in the offseason. His footwork is better, and his release looks a bit tighter and quicker. It's just the first day, obviously, but there's reason to believe he's made some strides in the offseason. As we remember, making quick reads was his biggest issue last year, and he was a bit hit-or-miss on Tuesday, taking a couple of sacks in team drills where he might have been able to get the ball out, but looking much more decisive on a few other plays. Obviously, that's still a work in progress, and judging decision making is a really difficult thing to do when the team isn't live.
Woulard looks like he has also made some progress in the offseason, and the ball still explodes out of his hand. He's still learning coverages, and there was one play where he was hesitant to throw to an open Kenny Walker down the sideline because he didn't know if the safety would be over the top, but he looks much, much more comfortable in team drills than he did last fall.
On the offensive line, Caleb Benenoch looks like a completely different human that last season. Instead of having a thicker, guard-type body, he has trimmed up considerably, to the point where he actually looks like a tackle. He handled left tackle duties for most of the practice, and looked good. He handled Kenny Orjioke very well at times, but then was also to block Deon Hollins effectively as well. It wouldn't be a shock to see him playing left tackle this year, particularly with the loss of Torian White, who was kicked off the team.
Kenny Lacy also looked like he has done significant work with his body, playing at both right and left tackle on the second string line. He, too, looks more like a tackle than he did last year with the work he's done on his body, and he looked quicker and more explosive. Poasi Moala was with the first string line at right tackle, and looked good matching up against Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Owa got the best of him a few times, but Moala won a few. Moala is also bigger, and putting on another 5 or 10 pounds or so would put him in pretty good shape as a tackle.
The interior of the line was much the same, with Scott Quessenberry, Jake Brendel, and Alex Redmond from left to right. At one point, true freshman Najee Toran worked into the first string in Redmond's spot. Toran, despite being undersized at 6'3-ish, 270, looks like he has a chance to be good, playing with a pretty significant mean streak even in practice.
Kenny Walker worked mostly as an outside receiver and looked about the same as his first year athletically, but he showed good hands on the first day. Mossi Johnson, the true freshman who greyshirted last year after blowing out his knee, looked very good for a guy with a big brace on his knee. He's working mostly as a slot receiver, and showed good quickness and ability to get open. Again, just the first day, and we'd imagine with that big brace he'll be limited once the team is in pads, but he could be a playmaker-type in the slot.
It's early, obviously, but we wouldn't be shocked if Devin Lucien had a breakout year. He was uncoverable during 1 on 1s and team drills, and looks like he's improved his quickness in the offseason. If he's ready to take over for Shaquelle Evans, that would be a significant development for the team.
Kennedy Polamalu was very vocal with the running backs, and seems to be a very hands-on coach. Craig Lee might have been the most explosive runner of the day, looking like he has electric speed in the open field. Paul Perkins also looked good, and Jordon James had a fairly good day. Without pads and real hitting, though, it's difficult to judge the backs.
Nate Iese is now working with the backs as a fullback, and his physical transformation rivals Benenoch's for the most impressive on the team. He's now a very cut, trimmer version of himself, and as a pass catcher out of the backfield, he looked deadly. With him at fullback, and Thomas Duarte at the Y, it gives UCLA two options up the middle that are coverage nightmares.
Moving on to the defense, as Jim Mora said in the podcast, Eric Kendricks is limited this spring. Isaako Savaiinaea was working in with the 1's in his place, and he looks impressive. He's a bit bigger than last year, but he hasn't seemed to sacrifice much of his quickness and speed – if any. Zach Whitley also looks like an athlete, and it's going to be interesting to see him in pads. He looks to be about 220 pounds, just guessing from the sidelines. He moves well in pass coverage.
Along the defensive line, Odighizuwa looks good physically. He's still shaking off some rust from the extended offseason, but his body looks like it's in good shape. He beat Moala on a few reps, and as he regains his technique, he should do well. He, Kenneth Clark, and Ellis McCarthy were the first string defensive line most of the day.
In the defensive backfield, the starters were much the same as last year, and Tahaan Goodman looked to be the first DB off the bench, filling in at safety in nickel. Priest Willis has changed numbers, now sporting No. 15. We didn't get a long look at Marcus Rios, but physically he looks like he's put on some weight, which is a very good thing.
Adarius Pickett looks thick, with big legs, but moves well. He's getting his first look at corner, but just looking at his body, you could easily see him playing several different positions.
Aaron Wallace sat out practice but Mora expects him back in a few days. He wouldn't elaborate on why he is out. White, as we mentioned, has been kicked off the team. Conor McDermott, as we talked about on the podcast with Mora, is limited to start out spring, but could see an increase in work as April progresses.
Recruits in attendance included 2015 defensive tackleKeon Clark, 2016 linebacker Lokeni Toailoa, his brother 2016 safety Leni Toailoa, and 2015 offensive tackle Roy Hemsley.
First Spring Practice Report
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