Second Take on UCLA's First Practice

Aug. 11 -- There was so much to take in for UCLA's first practice of the season Monday that we have a second practice report, with some thoughts on offensive line and defensive back depth...

There was so much to take in at UCLA’s first practice Monday, so we decided to do a second, complimentary report from our original day one practice report.

The first overall impression wasn’t a particularly great one – with the session lacking energy and tempo. Jim Mora quickly sensed it and was in mid-season form in trying to compel the team to pick it up, and then emphasized it again in the post-practice talk with the team, which the media could hear across the field.

There was some thought that it was intended to start the beginning of camp a little more reserved this year, but you could see that Mora quickly wasn’t happy with the team’s intensity. You can probably expect Tuesday’s practice to be full-throttle.

The quarterbacks on their first day of camp weren’t collectively very good. It’s interesting – you take Asiantii Woulard (who transferred in the off-season to Southern Florida ) out of the group, and it takes away so many decently-thrown balls in drills. It’s not that Woulard will necessarily be missed this season in terms of his production in games, but in practice, when you simply need strong passes to make a drill come off efficiently, it appeared he was missed Monday.

Freshman quarterback Josh Rosen was rusty, as were Jerry Neuheisel and Mike Fafaul. In fact, the entire passing offense in team drills looked rusty, with some receivers even bumping into each other at times, especially compared to a defense that is well-versed in the scheme. The passing offense was sputtering while the pass defense was jumping routes.

Luckily UCLA has running back Paul Perkins, and if there was an elite-looking player in practice Monday it was him. He looks a little slimmer and it appeared even quicker, and he displayed the instincts and moves in finding holes that we saw all last season.

In Dave Woods’ initial practice report, we went through how second-stringer Nate Starks and freshmen Sotonye Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi (Pictured Above) looked Monday. Jamabo did look long and lean, and while he didn’t necessarily look fast, he looked very comfortable, especially catching the ball out of the backfield. After just seeing him one day, it reinforced our assertion that the main challenge with Soso is exactly trying to define what he is and what role he’ll play. Bolu was perhaps the guy who was a bit surprising, making some nice runs, particularly inside the tackles and, as we said, catching passes, which was clearly one of his biggest challenges coming into UCLA.

The wide receiver group generally looked pretty big physically, and deep. The overall impression is how much physically bigger the group is – even long-time veteran Jordan Payton looked even further yoked. There was a marked physical difference in sophomore Alex Van Dyke. Austin Roberts, the redshirt freshman, who is returning from ACL surgery, had a brace on his knee, but was impressive. He has, also, worked on his body, leaning out a little while putting on muscle, and he didn’t run with the tentativeness he did in spring. If you’re talking about one guy who looked different from spring it’d be Roberts.

Freshman slot receiver Stephen Johnson did indeed flash some quickness and speed. It will be very interesting to see what happens with him, whether he ultimately ends up at cornerback or stays at slot. For this season, we could easily see him staying on offense, providing the quickness/speed that the receivers group needs. He probably would have a better chance of impacting the receiver rotation this year than he would the cornerback rotation. He measured at 5-11 and weighed 192.


Stephen Johnson

As we reported, freshman tight end Chris Clark didn’t participate Monday because of a case of mononucleosis. He was on the practice field observing, and looked particularly thinner than he did as a high school senior. Mono could keep him off the field for a prolonged period of time, and it led us to speculate that it was possibly the cause of his weight loss.

Simon Goines, the junior offensive tackle, didn’t report to San Bernardino, and Mora said in his post-practice comments that Goines had a medical condition that will keep him from the field at least until the team returns to UCLA’s campus. We’ve heard that Goines “had a medical scare,” but that he’s okay now. It is, though, uncertain if he’ll be able to play anytime soon.

With Goines out, a walk-on, Cristian Garcia, was with the twos at right tackle. It showed that, even though we think the offensive line is pretty deep compared to the OL history of the last 15 years, it’s probably not as deep as you might think. With Goines out and Scott Quessenberry missing the season while recovering from two shoulder surgeries, UCLA has 14 scholarship offensive linemen, and four of them are freshmen. Also, it appeared that Zach Bateman, the JC transfer who participated in spring practice, is still on the outside looking in, not even among the 2s on Monday. Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm has done this in the past to other players to get them motivated, and we’ll see if this is the case. John Lopez, too, the redshirt sophomore, still doesn’t look ready to be among the playable depth. Again, compared to UCLA’s history of OL in the last 15 years, the OL is experienced and talented, even compared to Mora’s first couple of years when he had to play freshmen. But it is a bit worrisome that out on the field Monday the really only clearly playable depth were redshirt sophomore Poasis Moala (who has had some questions about his readiness) and redshirt freshman left tackle Kolton Miller, who is considered the left tackle of the future but hasn’t played a snap in a real game. Given that, the development of Bateman and at least one other freshman into playable depth is something to watch.

True freshman Andre James, playing right tackle, got beaten badly by LB/DE Deon Hollins on one play, but then recovered and looked solid for the next several reps. While true freshman Fred Ulu-Perry had some questions with the snap as the second-string center (with Quessenberry out), he was easily the most physically impressive of the true freshmen, and most physically ready to play. It will be interesting to see if there is a possibility he could get some time at guard if there is a lack of playable depth there.

The fact that James got beat badly by Hollins, though, wasn’t really fair because Hollins might have been among the handful of guys Monday that looked like he was on another level. He flashed that impressive pass-rush ability, and he exploited it against younger OLs.

Keisean Lucier-South, the true freshman LB/DE, looked very young and skinny. We’d be surprised that where he is physically he’d play this season. We were impressed, though, with redshirt junior Kenny Orjioke, who is coming back from ACL surgery and didn’t participate fully in spring practice. He worked with the 2s, behind Aaron Wallace at the outside linebacker spot, and he looked very loose and instinctive, bigger physically and moving really well.

Josh Woods, the freshman linebacker who came in early to participate in spring practice, was one of the players who noticeably looked bigger physically, gaining muscle throughout his upper body.

Myles Jack was his usual self Monday, with a bit of his histrionics he’s known for, whooping on receivers as he rode them out of bounds. He has moved inside, but he did move around quite a bit in different alignments.


Myles Jack and Kenny Young

Defensive line was perhaps the most impressive unit. With Kenneth Clark, Eddie Vanderdoes and Takkarist McKinley with the ones, there was then a good amount of experienced depth, too, with sophomores Matt Dickerson and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner. The return of defensive tackle Eli Ankou boosted the unit, too. Rick Wade was probably one of the true freshman that looked potentially physically ready to play.

Among the guys that stood out Monday was cornerback Marcus Rios, who has definitely cemented his place as a starter at cornerback. We said that the secondary was jumping routes Monday and Rios was the ring leader, ranging and breaking out of the zone really well to step in front of numerous receivers. With Rios’ emergence, Ishmael Adams is now with the 2s as a cornerback, and then with the 1s as a nickel when they go to five DBs.

Perhaps one of the best developments of day one was how solid back-up cornerbacks Johnny Johnson and Denzel Fisher looked. Johnson looked more confident and not tentative than just about any time during the spring, and appeared to pick up a step of quickness. Fisher, too, was playing with confidence, and stepped into a couple of routes himself. Among the true freshmen, Dechaun Holiday might have made the most plays at cornerback, but we’re still skeptical – just looking too big and not mobile enough for the position. As we said, we could see him, at 210-ish pounds now, growing into a linebacker. One of the concerns coming into the season was a lack of playable depth in the secondary, but if Johnson can prove to be someone who can play, and possibly offer UCLA a future option at cornerback over the next couple of years, that would be a huge boost to the secondary, and the defense overall.

There was a report that Glendale Community College running back Travis Custis attended practice. Custis is a four-star with a good offer sheet.


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