Wednesday was the first day in shells for UCLA, and it was also another very solid practice across the board for the Bruins.
At punt return to start the day, Ishmael Adams, Stephen Johnson, Roosevelt Davis, Randall Goforth, and Devin Fuller all got reps. It wasn't much of a live special teams period, so the returners didn't do a whole lot. The punting situation hasn't been great so far, with Matt Mengel and Adam Searl both looking fairly inconsistent.
The starting lines on both sides of the ball were the same as they've been, and it looked like this was primarily a 3-4 day for the defense.
This was the first day of offensive line/defensive line one-on-ones, though, and that was really fun to watch. The starting offensive line, as a group, is just so much better than it has been at any point in the Mora era. Caleb Benenoch was very, very impressive today, and even matched up against Deon Hollins, who's a mismatch for basically any offensive tackle, Benenoch was able to swallow him up on rep after rep. On the left side, Conor McDermott was much the same, with no defensive lineman able to get around him. On the interior, Jake Brendel won more than he lost against Kenneth Clark, and Alex Redmond did a really nice job against Eddie Vanderdoes. Brendel has had a really nice camp so far, and it looks like the added five or ten pounds has really helped him.
On the defensive side of the ball, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner had a pretty eye-opening day. He's really improved his lower-body strength and he looked explosive today. He had one play during 11-on-11 where he just shot the gap between Redmond and Benenoch before either player could react and completely disrupted the play. Redmond followed that up by blindsiding him with a big hit, but it was a really nice play by Tuioti-Mariner. The sophomore defensive end looked good in one-on-ones as well.
Najee Toran also had some nice moments. At one point during 11-on-11, he did an excellent job of shedding the tackle he was matched up against to make a play on the running back. He looks good physically, and has picked up right where he left off in spring, when the switch to defensive line seemed to finally be clicking.
Kolton Miller, on the second string, did a nice job against Keisean Lucier-South. On one rep, Lucier-South looked like he had Miller beat, but the tackle pivoted at the last moment and more or less slammed Lucier-South into the ground. Miller has a ton of upside, and we'd say he looks like the best tackle option off of the bench, at either right or left tackle.
Fred Ulu-Perry was probably the best among the freshmen during the one-on-one periods, and Tevita Halalilo also had some nice moments. Halalilo has been with the second string at right guard for two straight days, with Ulu-Perry maintaining his spot as second-string center.
Receiver/Defensive Back one-on-ones were really interesting. The receivers, as a group, are just a big, strong, physical group, and they really seemed to make it a point to show it during that period. Thomas Duarte and Jordan Lasley had consecutive reps where they just pushed the defensive back about five yards off the ball right when the ball was snapped. Across the board, though, this was a really good day for the receivers.
Among guys who haven't really played so far, Alex Van Dyke, Austin Roberts, Aaron Sharp, and Lasley have all looked good so far. Sharp looks much quicker than he did in the spring, which has really helped him with his route-running. Lasley is one of the more physically talented receivers on the team with his combination of size and speed, and it's starting to show up on the field. Van Dyke also looks quicker now that he's put some more weight in his lower body.
Among the returning receivers, we've really liked what we've seen from Kenny Walker. This was the second straight day where he made an excellent adjustment on an underthrown deep ball to make an over the shoulder catch. He also hasn't had a drop that we've seen so far in camp, which is very good to see.
We're just going to say it: we like Colby Cyburt at tight end. In the spring, we were pretty cautious in that assessment, but he's impressed us again so far in fall camp. He runs well for his size, catches the ball pretty naturally, and adjusts to the ball like he's been playing tight end considerably longer than he has. Chris Clark being out means Cyburt is going to continue to get plenty of practice time to prove himself capable of playing.
Nate Iese got some work at tight end today as well, in addition to a variety of different backfield roles. As we've said for a long time, he could be a real weapon catching the ball out of the backfield, or lined up in the slot. He had probably the best catch of practice during the red zone 11-on-11 period, catching a ball that was thrown a little bit too high one-handed out of the backfield, which allowed him to keep his feet under him and maintain forward momentum. It was a really impressive, athletic catch.
With the running back corps, the top two are clearly set with Paul Perkins and Nate Starks, who's been very impressive so far in camp. The two freshmen are definitely battling it out for the third-string spot at this point, and right now, based on performance, we'd probably give the edge to Bolu Olorunfunmi. He had his first drops today, so that's a concern since hands were an issue in high school, but he's looked pretty natural running the ball. He's looked surprisingly quick through the first couple of days, but has also shown some nice physicality, even though the team is still in shorts. We're still not sure what to make of Sotonye Jamabo. He hasn't looked particularly explosive so far as a runner, but has done well on swing passes and short passes over the middle. He might just be taking a little longer to get acclimated, as happens with freshmen.
Cameron Judge has continued to make plays on the second string at outside linebacker. He's looked good on pass coverage, but at one point today, he basically blew up Jamabo and knocked him out of bounds to force an incomplete pass. He looks very comfortable in the defense, and we'd bet he gets some real game action this year on defense.
Jayon Brown did some nice work in coverage today as well. He's playing the inside linebacker position directly behind Myles Jack, and he really does show a lot of Jack's skillset. Having guys like Jack and Brown at linebacker who can cover the way they can really helps to increase the versatility of the base defense.
Octavius Spencer and Nathan Meadors, the freshmen safeties, both looked good today. Both look like they've been playing in this system for a year or two, and they're making great plays in zone coverage to break up passes. Spencer in particular made a nice jump on a ball during 11-on-11 to break up a pass. Denzel Fisher, the redshirt freshman corner, had one of his better days of practice today, and didn't get beaten badly at any point during one-on-ones. Adarius Pickett, the redshirt freshman safety, still tends to struggle in pass coverage. It would still probably be ideal to put him at running back, but with the growing depth there, it's hard to find a spot where he's going to make an impact.
Among the quarterbacks, Jerry Neuheisel had the best day. He looked very, very comfortable in the offense, and showed great poise and decision-making today. Josh Rosen was a little up-and-down, and his decisions were coming a little bit slower than they normally do, which allowed defensive backs to make plays on the ball. Rosen still had some throws today that no one else on the team can make, including a couple of beautiful posts during 7-on-7.
Practice ended with field goal kicking for the first time in camp, and Ka'imi Fairbairn made four of five kicks, all under 40 yards, with the miss coming from 34 (wide left). Stefan Flintoft also got some kicks in, and he was three of five, with his two misses both being kicked into the line. His kicks had a really low trajectory today.
2016 LB commit Lokeni Toailoa and his brother (and UCLA offeree) Leni Toailoa were both in attendance at practice today.
UCLA practice again tomorrow at 3 p.m.
UCLA Football Wednesday Practice Report
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