It was a shockingly temperate day in San Bernardino for the first day of UCLA’s training camp, with temperatures in the high 80’s and a nice cool breeze.
There was a great deal of news on the first day. Kylie Fitts, the sophomore defensive end, will transfer from the program and, as such, was not at practice. We had heard rumblings about it a couple of days ago, but it came as a surprise given that he likely had a shot at the two-deep this year with potential to win a starting job next year.
The three freshman, Dwight Williams, Jordan Lasley, and Aaron Sharp, were not at practice, as we reported this morning. All three will be back with the team in Westwood.
As we’ve said many times, it looks like Ian Taubler has medically retired after multiple concussions over the last few years.
Jalen Ortiz and Charles Dawson swapped positions and numbers, with the sophomore Ortiz switching to cornerback and the walkon Dawson flipping to receiver. Ortiz actually had a few nice moments at corner, and, while it’s only the first day, looked like he could perhaps provide some depth there. Taylor Lagace has switched to fullback, and he caught a nice ball during the pat-and-go period, snagging an errant throw one-handed. Tyler Foreman has moved to linebacker, but we actually didn’t see him do much of anything today.
On the injury front, Simon Goines sat out the first day, but Jim Mora said he should work back in as the fall progresses. Mossi Johnson, who had a nice day of practice, got hurt on one of the last plays of the practice when Ron Robinson fell on him out of bounds, driving his shoulder into the ground. Jim Mora said afterward that he’ll get X-rayed and he hoped that it was just a AC sprain.
Of the freshmen, probably the three most impressive players physically were Alex Van Dyke, the receiver, Matt Dickerson, the defensive end, and Kenny Young, the middle linebacker. Van Dyke looks like he’s an easy 215 pounds already, and while he’s playing outside receiver at the moment, we would not be shocked at all if he moved inside sooner rather than later. He has very sturdily built legs, and looks like he could add more weight pretty easily.
Dickerson looks like a man-child already, and had a few nice plays from scrimmage working in at the second-string left defensive end spot. He looks athletic, and at one point almost ran down a running back from behind when pursuing a play. It’ll be very interesting to see him with pads on.
Kenny Young looked very instinctual on the first day, and looks physically ready to play this season. He was working in with the third string mostly, since there’s good depth at inside linebacker, but he’s a guy we could easily see rising up the depth chart.
Aaron Wallace made his return to the practice field after sitting out all of spring, and he has really bulked up, looking like he could be pushing 245 or 250. It’s not bad weight, or at least doesn’t look like it, but it’ll be interesting to see how well he moves, particularly with pads on.
The offensive line on the first day went Caleb Benenoch, Alex Redmond, Jake Brendel, Malcolm Bunche, and Conor McDermott from left-to-right. It’s about what we expected, except Redmond and Bunche have flipped guard spots. Benenoch has continued to improve his body, but the two standouts physically were Bunche and McDermott. Bunche looks like he’s lost an easy 15 pounds since the spring and got through practice without looking winded, which was a very good sign. McDermott looks like he’s a good 290 pounds or so. He was a bit tentative on the first day, probably because of the shoulder injury, but physically he looks like a high-level Pac-12 tackle.
The defensive front was mostly a 3-4 base, which was interesting, since UCLA went most of spring without running the base defense much at all. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Kenneth Clark, and Eddie Vanderdoes were the first string defensive line, Myles Jack, Isaako Savaiinaea, Eric Kendricks, and Kenny Orjioke were the first string linebackers, and the usual suspects were the first string secondary. Ellis McCarthy got primary reps at backup nose tackle on the first day, but we imagine he’ll have a versatile role. When he came in, interestingly, Clark had a few moments where he slid to end.
Interestingly, on the first day, when UCLA went nickel, most of the time Priest Willis came in as the fifth defensive back rather than Tahaan Goodman. That’ll be an interesting situation to monitor going forward in camp, since it seems that the battle will be between the two for the fifth defensive back spot. Goodman did work in at times with the first string.
The second string offensive line was Kolton Miller, Kenny Lacy, Scott Quessenberry, Najee Toran, and Poasi Moala from left to right. Miller will probably need a year; he’s skinny, but has good height and moved pretty well. He just needs to get stronger. The rest of the line looked similar to how they looked in spring, but we’ll get a better look at them once they’re in pads.
Zach Whitley didn’t do much during practice, looking like he had a tight hamstring or cramps at a couple of points. Physically, he looks like he’s gotten a bit bigger. Cameron Griffin, the freshman outside linebacker, looks like he has a chance to be good down the road, with very good athleticism and lateral mobility. He made a couple of very nice moves on Miller and earned a couple of sacks.
Of the running backs, Paul Perkins probably had the best day, but Jordon James also looked good. James actually looks a bit more like his old self after seeming a bit slowed in spring. Perkins, though, showed great balance and vision on the first day, and also caught the ball well out of the backfield.
We’re 1000 words into this and haven’t talked about the quarterbacks. Brett Hundley had an overall pretty good day. Early in practice, particularly in team drills, he was making quick decisions and made a few nice throws between defenders where it was clear he had an idea what route would be open pre-snap. During 7-on-7, he checked down often to Nate Iese, who looked like a natural catching the ball out of the backfield.
Asiantii Woulard looked about how he looked in spring, with a consistently short motion that didn’t seem to generate the zip that he had last fall. His balls were sailing on him on throws to the outside and then over the middle the ball was generally too low. Jerry Neuheisel also looked about how he looked in spring, with slightly improved arm strength. There’s still time, but we’d guess Neuheisel has the inside track at the backup job
Ainuu Taua looks like he’s going to be a defensive end to start with, and he looks like he’s lost a little bit of weight.
If we didn’t talk about a guy in this report, don’t worry – they’re still alive. We’ll try to cover everyone out here by the end of the third day of practice, so sit tight.
First Fall Practice Report
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