Tackle Ken Kocher has been a complete animal in his first week of fall practice. Back to health, he also appears very hungry, getting in a number scrapes along the way. He's also throwing people around like rag dolls. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman perhaps looks the best he ever has as a Bruin. Not only strong, but quick, and it appears experience is now just oozing out of him – appearing to know exactly what he's supposed to do and where he's supposed to be on every down. Rodney Leisle has looked tough and physical. Dave Ball looks like a load – but a quick load – at the other end position.
And the depth here is really remarkable. Anthony Fletcher has worked with the #1 defense at times, and looked big, tough and experienced. Also backing up at tackle and looking good has been Steve Morgan. Sean Phillips seems like he's still just getting started, recovering from the injury. Saia Makakaufaki, though, has really had a presence. At end, Asi Faoa is starting to learn the position and has some very good moments. Rusty Williams hasn't stood out in the first week. Stephen Sua is the scrimmage sack master. If he can do it in the games, he'll make a big contribution.
As a unit: The most talented, experienced unit on the team. The second string would start at most schools. They have been dominating against the run, and (cross your fingers) looked very good on pass rushing. In the scrimmage, and in practice, the defensive line had a good number of sacks, and that's not counting the many that they aren't getting credit for when the7 reach the quarterback before he releases the ball and they can't touch him. It might be something to worry about when it comes to the offensive line, but the DL continuously has continually pushed the OL back onto the quarterback. The defensive line is the truly dominant aspect of the team.
Robert Thomas hasn't really stood out so far, but then again, he hasn't actually gotten that many reps in contact. Ryan Nece has seen limited action, too, but has made some nice plays and looks good. Now that Mat Ball looks to be the starting strongside linebacker, we'll have to watch him this next week and see how he adapts to the new position. Both Brandon Chillar and Marcus Reese have been hindered by injuries and both look like it. Audie Attar is really becoming a good-looking weakside linebacker, making plays and showing his hitting abilities. Tim Warfield, it seems is in the doghouse. He did, though, toward the end of the week, make a few good plays. Dennis Link has shown that he could be a steady back-up at middle linebacker. Spencer Havner, the true freshman, got some time with the first-team defense when others were hurt, and, even though he needs to put on weight and strength, he looks like he has the speed and instincts to be a very good linebacker.
As a unit: in their first week, the linebackers haven't really distinguished themselves. With Thomas and Nece laying low, and Chillar and Nece knicked up, and Ball taking a crash course at stronside, there has been any real good rhythm or consistency to the unit in the first week.
Ricky Manning has looked rusty, still appearing like he might not be entirely in football shape/mindset just yet after a summer of baseball. Marques Anderson,before the concussion, also looked like he was a little slow in getting up to speed. Jason Stephens generally has looked good, and more comfortable as the strong safety position. Before he got his concussion, Matt Ware was starting at the other corner position and looked like he could handle it, and then some. He, of course, was making mistakes, but his athleticism really enhances his ability to play the position. Joe Hunter, before the shoulder strain Monday, was having a very good fall camp, looking like the most consistent corner. Keith Short has had some nice plays, but has also been burned pretty regularly, too. The back-ups at safety have not distinguished themselves particularly. Ben Emanuel looks like he should be a player, but he hasn't shown good instincts in pass coverage or good anticipation. Kevin Brant has heart but hasn't done much to make up for a lack of size or athleticism so far in practice. Garrett Lepisto, actually, has looked decent for a walk-on, though.
The other freshmen besides Ware present interesting possibilities. It looks like Matt Clark and Jibril Raymo have a chance of not redshirting. Clark has looked good and quick at corner, and would lend much needed depth. Raymo, even though he's been working primarily with the third and fourth teams (he worked for one afternoon with the first team defense) has been playing physical, inspired ball. He just needs to learn what he's supposed to do. But with the lack of quality depth at safety it's probably a good bet Raymo doesn't redshirt. Matt Cassell also has a chance not to redshirt, looking quick at corner. Clark might be a bit stronger than Cassell, but if there is one injury to the two-deep at corner, both Clark and Cassell could be making the trips for away games.
As a unit: It was starting to come together toward the end of last week, and then more or less fell apart when Anderson and Ware fell out of practice. The team needs Manning and Anderson to improve to their star-level status this week.
Along with running backs and the defensive line, the special teams look to be another big strength of the team. At punter, it is a daily ritual at practice to watch the bombs launching from the legs of Nate Fikse and Chris Kluwe. Both have gotten more consistent and it's almost embarrassing that one team has both of these guys as punters. At placekicker, Chris Griffith looks the same as always – very accurate and consistent within 40 yards. Fikse's field goal bombs cover half of the playing field at Spaulding, and seem to still be rising when they're going through the goal posts.
On punt returns, the team looks solid and deep with Manning the primary returner. It looks like Craig Bragg will be catching some punts, too, and he has looked very shifty in that responsibility. The team hasn't practice kick returns much, so it's difficult to judge how Tab Perry, Akil Harris and Bragg have fared.
As a group: UCLA has to be a team with one of the best situations at at kicker and punter in the nation. There is plenty of talent at kick-off and punt return.