Saturday Practice Report

The first practice in pads gave us some real evaluation time, and a few players stood out, including Craig Lee and Kenneth Clark...

Saturday marked the third practice of spring for UCLA, and the first practice in pads. UCLA actually went live, or at least very close to live, during 11 on 11, which was fun to watch.

Brett Hundley had, generally, a very good practice in team drills and in individual drills, with the ball tight and on the money most of the time. Where he's struggled, interestingly, during the first few practices is in skeleton drills without the offensive and defensive line, looking as if he's thinking a bit too much. It's very encouraging, though, that he looked good during the team period. Asiantii Woulard also looked better than he did on Thursday, throwing the ball much better during both individual and team drills.

The first string offensive line was the same as it's been for most of the first two practices, with Caleb Benenoch, Scott Quessenberry, Jake Brendel, Alex Redmond, and Poasi Moala lined up from left to right. Malcolm Bunche was once again at practice, but still is not participating. Coach Mora said after practice that he might be ready for Monday's practice. Moala is probably the most athletic offensive lineman on the team, and during offensive line vs. defensive line 1 on 1s, he had the most exciting rep, going toe-to-toe with Kenneth Clark and holding his own very well. His quickness of the line is something no one else in the unit has.

Malcolm Bunche
Jake Brendel also had a nice rep against Clark during 1 on 1s, and 1 on 1 is not usually Brendel's strong suit. And, side note, we always use competition against Clark as a bench mark because he is easily the most explosive and physical defensive lineman on the team. Kenny Lacy didn't look quite as good as he did without pads on, but he might just be getting acclimated. He still had a few nice reps.

Running back drills were once again a treat to watch. Kennedy Polamalu is much more hands-on than Steve Broussard, and seems to be very focused on instilling the proper fundamentals. It seems like every drill he has the running backs do involves some form of collision or contact, whether it's a pass-catching drill or just a running drill showing them how to hold onto the ball when they're getting hit. On Saturday, he ran a drill with two backups holding big pads and hitting each of the running backs on the ball-carrying arm as hard as they could to try to knock the ball loose and knock the backs off balance. It seems clear that strength is going to be a big priority for Polamalu in his backs.

Probably the best running back of the day was Craig Lee, who looks electric in the open field, and is pretty clearly one of the fastest guys on the team. It seems like every other play, he breaks a run where he didn't have much room to work with. Steven Manfro also had a good day, looking shifty in the open field. He had two touchdowns. Paul Perkins also had a few flashes. He doesn't have the burst that Lee has, but he runs with more power. Nate Iese looks like even more of an uncoverable nightmare for defensive backs when he's wearing pads.

At the receiver spots, and I know we've mentioned him a lot, but Mossi Johnson once again stood out. Playing in the slot, he's consistently been able to get open against guys like Ishmael Adams, and he's shown generally good hands. It's going to be really fun to see him without the knee brace in fall, but it looks pretty clear at this point that he has a real chance to be a contributor his first year in the program. Eldridge Massington, after a quiet-ish couple of days, looked good on Saturday, and made one nice, really physical catch during 1 on 1s where he posted up in the end zone. We'd still like to see some more explosion from him, but it looks like he has done some work with his physicality and ability to catch the ball in tight spaces. Devin Lucien continued to look focused and like the No. 1 receiver on the team.

On the defensive line, as we mentioned above, Clark looks like a beast during 1 on 1 periods, consistently looking like the worst matchup nightmare for whatever offensive lineman he's matched up against. Brendel won a rep against him, but on the next rep, Clark almost pancaked Brendel. Ellis McCarthy also had his best day of the spring, which you might expect from a guy his size (big guys almost always look better in pads). He's gotten much better with using his hands. Owamagbe Odighizuwa had a good inside rush on Poasi Moala in team drills, and doesn't look all that rusty.

At linebacker, Kenny Orjioke had a really nice play on Caleb Benenoch during team drills, actually getting his hands inside of Benenoch's, punching his chest and driving him back, and then roping tight around his outside shoulder for a near-sack. He's really strong, looking all of 245 pounds, but still moves really well for his size. As his technique and feel improves, his upside could be very high.

Zach Whitley, with pads on, looks even better than without. He's a bit like a missile with the way he hits people, and it just looked like he was much more comfortable with pads on. There were a few times where he sliced into the backfield on a running play where he looked like the most athletic player on the field. He also got buried by Alex Redmond on a couple of plays, but that'll happen when you give up 80 pounds or so. It's a good bet that UCLA finds a way to play Whitley considerably this year.

In the defensive backfield, Tahaan Goodman had a very impressive day, looking good in both team and skeleton drills. After looking overwhelmed at times last year, it looks like the game is starting to slow down a bit for him. He was very close to a couple of interceptions on Saturday. Fabian Moreau also had a good day.

Ka'imi Fairbairn has had a good spring so far, and has only missed one kick that I've noticed (from 37 yards) out of probably 20 or so I've watched. The trick for him will be putting it together during games, but he's looked good so far in practice. Sean Covington looks like he's gotten even stronger, and he booted one punt (which we caught on tape ) about 55 yards with incredible hang time. He still shanks a punt every now and then, but it's now about 1 in 6 or 7 rather than 1 in 4.

Darren Andrews sat out practice for the second day after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee this week. Coach Mora didn't know if he'd be back for spring. Ben Wysocki also went down with what appeared to be an ankle injury during team drills.

There were a lot of recruits in attendance, and Brandon has the full list (or as close to it) on the message board. Probably most significant was Iman Marshall, who spent a lot of time hanging out with Josh Rosen and Sean McGrew. Cordell Broadus was also in attendance, and he spent a long time talking with a group of Dwight Williams, Rosen, and McGrew.

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