It's getting a little redundant to talk about UCLA's practices being up-tempo, since they are almost universally up-tempo, well-run, and organized. But this spring, with two years of practices under their belts, the players run from drill to drill so quickly, and know exactly what they're supposed to do, that the practices seem even faster.
UCLA had the usual situation along its offensive line, with Caleb Benenoch, Malcolm Bunche, Jake Brendel, Alex Redmond, and a combination of Poasi Moala and Kenny Lacy from left to right. During team drills, it actually looked like Lacy was the better of he and Moala, but then Lacy had an impossible time against Kenny Orjioke, both in team drills and during 1 on 1s, that put a sour note on his day. We should say again, though, that the transformation that Lacy has made with his body and with his tenacity on the field has been very impressive.
Bunche looked better today in terms of his conditioning than in either of his first two practices, but it looked that he was feeling it a bit by the end. Early on in practice, he was able to stand up Ellis McCarthy during team reps, and also held his own against Kenneth Clark. When it hit 1 on 1 time, though, toward the end of practice, he was beaten on three straight reps by McCarthy, two of the losses coming on pure bull rushes. His progress in terms of his conditioning in just three practices has been encouraging, though.
Caleb Benenoch has improved his awareness and feel in the offseason, among the many other things he's improved. At one point, UCLA's defensive line stunted, with Clark coming around Deon Hollins on the left side. Benenoch gave Hollins a quick punch, pushed him into the way of Bunche (who was now free since Clark was stunting), and then got his feet planted and handled Clark's rush very well. He and Bunche seem to quickly be developing some chemistry on that side.
Clark had a good practice again, and during defensive line drills, you can just see his strength, where virtually everything he does he does a bit more violently than the other linemen. He has really violent hands, and during 1 on 1s it's very apparent. He told us after practice that he's up to 315 pounds now, and said that's a perfect weight for him.
UCLA started off practice with special teams work, and the kick returners are the usual suspects, with Steven Manfro, Devin Fuller, Mossi Johnson, Ishmael Adams, and Devin Lucien making up the group. Adams probably has the job unless something drastic changes, but Johnson looked like a potential weapon at the spot as well, looking very explosive and smooth.
It's still early, but between Johnson and Kenny Walker, UCLA may have the big play threat they've been looking for. Walker had a few excellent reps during 1 on 1s, with the most impressive a post where Walker completely blew by Adarius Pickett, catching the ball in the back of the end zone. His speed is something the offense really didn't have last year, and though he had one bad drop on a slant (where he also got wide open) during practice, his hands look like they've improved over the last year. It's going to be interesting to mark his progress. With Johnson, he certainly looks like he has the speed and quickness to be a very good slot receiver, and, considering he's still wearing a brace, it should be exciting to see him in San Bernardino with it off.
Isaako Savaiinaea is expected back next week, as X-Rays showed nothing serious with his shoulder. He did some of the walkthrough work, but spent the rest of practice working with Coach Alosi. Without he and Kendricks during team drills, Ryan Hofmeister and Jayon Brown worked primarily with the 1s again. On the outside, Zach Whitley looked a bit better than he did the other day, but he's still clearly adjusting to the role.
Kenny Orjioke had probably his best day of the spring, and looked unblockable off the edge during 1 on 1s. Lacy had a wildly difficult time staying in front of him. Orjioke also forced a fumble during team drills, just getting into the backfield way too quickly on a zone read. Jack then scooped it for a touchdown. Orjioke is a freaky athlete, moving really well in coverage but also looking strong and physical when pass-rushing. In terms of just pure athleticism, he's a better athlete than the guy he's replacing, Anthony Barr. When the light bulb fully comes on, he's going to be a monster.
During the first team period, Ishmael Adams had a spectacular pick, pulling the ball out of Thomas Duarte's hands in the back of the end zone with his back to the play. It took excellent instincts, and a real awareness to get that ball. Adams also had a number of fun 1 on 1 battles with Jordan Payton where he more or less held him on every play, but Payton made each catch (all of which were very tough).
Among the running backs, Manfro had probably the best day, but Jordon James had by far the best individual run, changing direction really well en route to a long touchdown during team drills. Paul Perkins also had a nice run, and Craig Lee had a few flashes, but was a bit inconsistent.
Tyler Foreman had a nice sequence during team drills, finding ball carriers and making good open field tackles. He also did a better job in 1 on 1s, using his strength to body guys up and then running with them fairly well. On longer developing routes, he doesn't quite have the lateral ability to hang with them, but in shorter, tighter spaces he can use his strength and length to his advantage. Priest Willis actually got some run with the ones today, but didn't have a very good day, struggling in coverage.
You have to give credit to Myles Jack. Yes, he made a name for himself being able to cover guys like a safety last year, but this spring, he's made it a point to try to cover the smallest, quickest guys on the team during 1 on 1s. He hasn't been hugely successful, but it's impressive watching him matching up against these guys and doing a more than credible job. He had a couple of reps against 5'4 Ahmaad Harris where he actually was able to run with Harris. When Jack is matched up against a guy like Thomas Duarte, though, he can match him much more evenly.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa had a nice practice, and probably the most impressive rep of the 1 on 1 period, swimming inside on Poasi Moala and getting to the quarterback area in about a second. His strength and quickness on those inside moves seems to not have diminished at all in the past year.
Thomas Duarte had the most impressive catches of the day, making bad throws look good during team drills and then consistently grabbing anything that hit his hands in 1 on 1s. He should be a red zone weapon this year.
There were a few big groups of high school and junior college players out at practice, but it didn't appear that there were any recruits of major note. We'll update you if we missed anyone.
Thursday Practice Report
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