Saturday was a much more energized practice than the past couple, with the team in full pads practicing situational special teams drills and spending a good portion of time on 11 on 11 scrimmage work. The situational work has been a staple of Mora's spring practices since he's come to UCLA, with drills covering the minute aspects of special teams (taking a safety in the end zone, fake field goals, fake extra points, pooch punts, and so on). With all of those drills, there was once again a fair amount of time spent on instruction.
Myles Jack returned to practice after sitting out the last two after he had his wisdom teeth pulled. He looked none the worse for wear, and was in the first string at inside linebacker alongside Isaako Savaiinaea. Thomas Duarte sat out practice again, and Jim Mora told us afterward that he did indeed sprain his ankle. It's not thought to be serious, but it wouldn't be a shock to see him sit out the remainder of the spring to keep him from reaggravating it, particularly with the way Mossi Johnson has played.
Johnson is not only the biggest surprise on the team this spring, but there's a decent enough argument that he's been one of the MVPs of spring. He's become the go-to outlet for all of the quarterbacks, but Brett Hundley in particular, thanks to his ability to get open on crossing patterns over the middle. He had another bunch of catches on Saturday where the quarterbacks had to scan the field for a few seconds and then Johnson would separate over the middle for the grab. He'll be really fun to watch in San Bernardino once he has that brace off.
In an interesting defensive wrinkle, Owamagbe Odighizuwa filled in for Kenny Orjioke at that Elephant role in the defense, and looked good. If you remember, during the Stanford games in 2012 he played a little bit of that big linebacker role that they created to go against that offensive line. If he's the number two Elephant behind Orjioke, that's a pretty interesting look. Owa actually dropped into coverage a couple of times, and for a 265 to 270 pound dude, he didn't look bad doing it.
With Owa playing some of that role, Kylie Fitts got a look at his vacated defensive end role and had one of his best practices of the spring, facing off against Malcolm Bunche most of the day. He seems to have gotten more comfortable as the spring has gone on, and he's playing quicker. Bunche had a hard time handling him. With Owa on the right side, the first string defensive line looked like Fitts, Kenneth Clark, Ellis McCarthy, and then Owa (in that hybrid role) from left to right.
Bunche, for his part, didn't have a great day at tackle, looking a little slow-footed. Some of that is probably still fatigue, as he was huffing and puffing for a good portion of practice. Our evaluation of him may have to wait til San Bernardino when he's in better shape.
Caleb Benenoch had a good practice, which is surprising because he still looks like he's favoring his leg a little bit. He's been one of the top performers of the spring, and keeping him healthy heading into the year should be a major point of emphasis. His presence on the line is essential this year.
Devin Lucien had the best catch of the day during team drills, stretching his body out fully for a finger tip catch diving toward the sideline, with Fabian Moreau blanketing him. This spring, Lucien's shown a knack for the spectacular catch, seemingly able to catch virtually anything his hands touch. He'll still drop an occasional routine pass, but his ability to catch the tough ball is a sight to see.
Steven Manfro and Craig Lee each stood out among the running backs today, with Lee having a couple of nice cutback runs, and Manfro looking like his usual spring self, making good explosive plays on swing passes and runs to the outside. Marcus Rios had one of his best plays of the spring actually on one of Lee's runs, racing him down from behind and tackling him right before the end zone. It was one of the first times where we've seen him get up to his top speed this spring.
The defense was generally very good today, with Randall Goforth and Ishmael Adams both looking good playing up on the line at times. Goforth had a great tackle at the line of scrimmage, blowing up a swing pass.
Asiantii Woulard had another not-so-great day, and afterward Jim Mora said he's hit a bit of a wall. Jerry Neuheisel had a pretty good day, and during team drills showed a cool-headedness that you have to like, adjusting to bad snaps and trying to make plays. He was about a half a foot away from completing the best pass of the day on a broken play after a bad snap during team drills.
Priest Willis, it should be said, didn't have a bad practice, looking good as a red zone corner. When he doesn't have to stick to a guy in a pure open field situation, and can instead use his strength to body up a receiver at the line of scrimmage, he can be very effective.
Ka'imi Fairbairn finished off practice making his first four kicks, but after the last one saw a false start by the offense, he was backed up to 57 yards and missed wide right. As Mora has said, though, he's been more reliable this spring, so hopefully that carries over into the fall.
There were plenty of recruits at practice again, despite the USC spring game today, with Cameron Smith, Isaiah Langley, Malik Henry, Keisean Lucier-South, and several others at practice (Brandon has the full list on the message board). Incoming freshman Ainuu Taua, Dwight Williams, Cameron Griffin, Denzel Fisher, and Jaleel Wadood were also at practice. This is about the fifth straight practice for Taua, who seems to be champing at the bit to get out there. Eddie Vanderdoes actually made it out to practice as well now that he's off the one-legged scooter. Anthony Barr was also at practice, and got a good deal of love from the coaching staff and players.
Saturday Practice Report
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