Thursday Practice Report

UCLA did running back vs. linebacker blocking drills for the first time, we got a good look at 1-on-1s, and there are a few injury updates...

UCLA’s fourth practice was, like Wednesday’s, a very good one, with excellent tempo throughout. One thing that’s become apparent so far is how much more vocal the leadership is this year from the players. A few times, it was easy to hear Brett Hundley from across the field coaching up the offensive linemen on the need for tempo.

On the offensive line, it’s pretty clear that Malcolm Bunche, despite being here just over four months, has already become a leader of the unit. He pulled players out of drills when they weren’t doing the right things and did a great job of setting the tone both through his words and actions. It obviously helps that he’s gotten himself in very good shape and has played so well through the early part of camp. At left tackle again today, he did a great job of handling Owamagbe Odighizuwa on the edge. It was only toward the end of practice, when he got a little fatigued, that Odighizuwa was able to beat him on a few spin moves.

On the injury front, Alex Redmond, Conor McDermott, and Simon Goines all sat out, which thrust Najee Toran and Scott Quessenberry both into the first string again. Now that UCLA is in shoulder pads, Toran has come alive a little bit, and today showed off that same mean streak he showed in spring. He doesn’t look like he’s added much weight to his frame, but the more we watch him, the more we think he could be a pretty effective lineman even at his current 280.

Thomas Duarte didn’t do much, and Jordon James also was out for a stretch of practice, particularly during team stuff. Zach Whitley came out with an undisclosed injury about halfway through practice. Jim Mora told us after practice that Cameron Griffin’s shoulder injury didn’t look good, but that they’re awaiting a final diagnosis from the doctor this weekend.

UCLA brought referees out for the first time in camp, but there weren’t a ton of flags thrown, which is a good sign.

Alex Van Dyke looks as if he’s getting a bit more comfortable, and looked quicker off the line than he did in the first few days. He also caught the ball better today. Right now, he’s working as a third string outside receiver, and we could see a scenario where he gets some time this year because his size and strength is hard to replicate.

Craig Lee was up and down today. He has blazing speed, and showed it off again today, but he also fumbled once and had a couple of plays where he ran right into the back of his blocker. He clearly needs to improve his patience in reading plays. On the flip side of that was Paul Perkins, who looks like he’s in the process of making a leap. He’s shown great balance and vision so far in camp, and has also patiently followed his blocks, making quick cuts when holes open up. Obviously James was out for a stretch today, but we think there’s a real chance Perkins could win the job.

The running backs and linebackers lined up for blocking drills at one point, and Kenny Young made several running backs very sad with monstrous hits, at one point blowing up Nate Starks and driving him back a good five or six yards. Steven Manfro got the linebackers back, though, when he planted his helmet right under Jayon Brown’s chin on an explosive block, which put Brown out of action for a bit.

On the other side of the field, the receivers and the defensive backs engaged in 1 on 1s, and Fabian Moreau once again showed that he’s developing into a lockdown corner. He is almost never more than a foot away from a receiver when the ball is on its way, which is uncanny because he often needs a moment to recover immediately after the snap. His recovery speed is excellent. He and Devin Lucien had several nice battles today, but it was pretty clear that Moreau had the upper hand.

Tyler Foreman looks decidedly more comfortable and confident now, and we’d have to assume that the combination of an extra year of experience and the move to linebacker has helped with that. Playing inside the box seems to suit him a bit better, and it’s even translated to 1 on 1s, where he looks as if he’s moving better in space.

Kenny Walker’s hands looked better today, but he did have one drop that wasn’t great. It seems as if he’s expected to catch the ball when he doesn’t have the opportunity to look it into his hands (i.e. any route where he has to catch the ball right out of his break) he’s hit or miss. His route-running is improved, though, and his speed gives the offense an element it doesn’t have without him.

We never talk about Jake Brendel much because he’s been such a consistent cog in the middle, but it should be noted that he’s doing a very nice job handling Kenneth Clark on the interior both during team drills and in 1-on-1s. Brendel is a pretty cerebral player, so it wouldn’t be a shock to hear that he learned Clark’s tendencies after having a rough spring against him.

On the quarterback front, Brett Hundley had another fairly good day, hitting receivers on time and looking like he was making good reads. It’s so hard to tell during practice though. Asiantii Woulard didn’t have as good a day as yesterday, lacking some of the zip he showed on intermediate passes. Jerry Neuheisel hasn’t had a good last couple of days, nearly getting picked a couple of times on outs to the sideline.

2015 three-star Norwalk (Calif.) defensive tackle Dillon Faamatau was at practice today.

Tomorrow’s practice will be UCLA’s first in pads, and then the first two-a-day will be Saturday.

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