UCLA's fifth practice of the spring was in many ways dominated by the defense, with the defensive backs consistently winning 1 on 1 battles throughout the day, and the offense just looking a little out of sync. There were fumbles galore during team drills, and it didn't seem as if there were one culprit in particular who kept dropping the ball.
Anthony Jefferson had probably his best day of practice this spring, locking up Thomas Duarte during two reps in 1 on 1s and then doing a very nice job covering Mossi Johnson during 11 on 11 action. He's shown his versatility this spring, doing time at both corner and safety, and it's really astounding to think how far he's come since just before spring last year, when it was a question whether he'd get his speed and flexibility back.
Another guy who looked particularly good today was Kenny Walker. The receiver is now playing primarily behind Jordan Payton on the outside, and he looks like he's regained all of his speed after sitting out last year with a back injury. What's most impressive about him is that his hands have improved since his freshman year, making him a much more credible option on the outside. He took the top off the defense during 11 on 11 at one point, and during 1 on 1s, Priest Willis and Fabian Moreau both had issues covering him.
Willis did not have a good day, struggling in each of his 1 on 1 reps, particularly against Eldridge Massington. During each of their reps, Willis ended up having to interfere with Massington at the end of the play to keep him from catching the ball. During 7 on 7, Tyler Scott gave him a move that crossed up his feet and knocked him down. After a nice day on Monday, Wednesday wasn't a great one for him.
Perhaps the most significant development out of Wednesday's practice was Isaako Savaiinaea leaving with a sling on his left arm. After practice we learned that Savaiinaea will have x-rays, but we're not sure on what, and we were told it wasn't expected to be serious. In his absence, Myles Jack worked with the inside guys during position drills and Jayon Brown and Ryan Hofmeister filled out the starting lineup (Eric Kendricks isn't participating in much this spring).
Brown looks like he'll get the chance to play at inside 'backer, working with both nickel and base packages. He was in on a couple of the fumble recoveries and looks like he has gained some good weight in the offseason, probably 215+ pounds now. Zach Whitley continued to work on the outside, and it was a bit of a struggle for him. On three separate occasions he was pancaked by Caleb Benenoch (twice) and Kenny Lacy. After the first one, Benenoch got up off him and let ofut a roar and pounded his chest.
Benenoch actually had an exceptional day, easily his best of the spring. After the pancake of Whitley, he tore off three or four straight reps where he completely dominated whomever he was up against. He twice battered Whitley, and then, when matched up against Owamagbe Odighizuwa, was able to completely push him off the line and drive him back a good five or six yards.
Malcolm Bunche, the transfer, had a decent enough day. When he's not exhausted, he does a nice job of getting low and moving his feet, but it's clear fatigue makes him lose a bit of his technique (not surprising). As he gets in better condition, he could be a force. He once again did a nice job against Kenneth Clark at various points during practice, and seems to be picking up the scheme well, in terms of knowing who to block most of the time. He told us after practice that he actually has experience playing all positions on the line, including center, which would be interesting to see at 6'6 and 317 pounds.
Najee Toran worked in with the first string with Alex Redmond sitting out some of the heavier contact portions of practice. Toran is a real competitor, and actually did a nice job on Ellis McCarthy at one point, pushing him to the ground. McCarthy seemed a bit dinged up, actually, and sat out a good portion of practice (After practice we heard he felt some soreness in his knee that wasn't considered serious). In his stead, Eli Ankou got a look with the first team. It hasn't been an excellent spring for Ankou, who has struggled getting low and maintaining his strength. During 1 on 1s, he's consistently struggled to hold his own.
Kenneth Clark was once again a force during 1 on 1s, pushing Poasi Moala to the ground on what looked like a simple, hold-your-ground drill where Clark was simply supposed to hold up the point of attack. Moala probably didn't have his best day, and Kenny Lacy, who had a very good day, actually worked in with the first string offensive line at right tackle in his place. Lacy, to reiterate, looks like he's changed his body considerably in the offseason, and is moving better laterally while playing with more strength.
Brett Hundley didn't have a great day, throwing into coverage a few times and looking a bit more inaccurate than he's looked through the first four practice. It's probably fair to chalk it up to a bit of tired arm, since this is usually when the grind of camp starts to hit a little bit after a few months not practicing. Asiantii Woulard, though, looked very good, and after having a bit of a lull to start out the spring, has put together two consecutive nice practices. Jerry Neuheisel, it should be said, has improved in the offseason, looking like he's throwing with a bit more velocity.
Craig Lee once again showed the most electric ability among the running backs, breaking off a long 55-yard touchdown during team drills. Paul Perkins and Jordon James seem to be splitting reps with the 1s, but running backs are rotated so often it's difficult to assign much importance to the way the depth chart is set up.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa got dinged up early in practice, but didn't seem the worse for wear later. He was able to blow Malcolm Bunche off the line during 1 on 1s, and looked pretty good in team drills, aside from the aforementioned rep against Benenoch.
Ian Taubler was not at practice today (held out for precautionary reasons with a history of concussions), and so the outside linebackers were a bit depleted. Kenny Orjioke had a good day, but did much of his work against second string offensive tackle Colby Cyburt, so it was difficult to assign a ton of significance to it. It seems pretty clear, though, that Orjioke cannot be blocked with a running back.
Tyler Foreman is an interesting case. He actually looks improved physically from a year ago, and there's a lot to like in terms of his body. He does a nice job against receivers when he can press them at the line of scrimmage, and was one of the few defensive backs who showed an ability to cover Mossi Johnson today by doing just that. He struggles in space, though, when he has to swivel his hips and change direction. It'll be interesting to see whether he can crack the rotation at safety this season.
Devin Lucien showed off some improved jets during 1 on 1s, running a streak down the sideline that burned right past Adarius Pickett for a touchdown. Lucien looks like he's very clearly trying to provide Hundley with a true No. 1 receiver, and it looks like he's made real progress in the offseason. Mossi Johnson looks like he's developing as a valuable outlet for Hundley out of the slot. Hundley's usual outlet, Devin Fuller, didn't do much during team drills (we were told it was just to get younger players some work).
Ishmael Adams looked good in coverage at various points on Wednesday, including during 1 on 1s where he effectively pressed Jordan Payton at the line of scrimmage, which is no small feat since Payton looks a bit stronger than he was last year.
Generally speaking, it seems that UCLA is using much more live tackling that it did during spring last year, and it makes sense with the Bruins' improved depth, and Mora's own desire to make this spring and fall difficult for the team so they don't get complacent.
Ka'imi Fairbairn wrapped up practice by going 7 of 9 on field goals, with the two misses coming from beyond 40 yards.
2016 linebacker Joel Dublanko was at practice.
Wednesday Practice Report
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