Thursday was once again in shells (it looks like tomorrow will be the first day in pads) but it was a very physical practice, with plenty of hitting, especially on the lines.
The defense was especially aggressive today after getting beaten up a little bit yesterday. It seemed that UCLA was working extensively on its blitz and pressure packages in the 11-on-11 periods, and the offense struggled to deal with it.
Josh Rosen struggled today, really for the first time since we've been watching him at UCLA. The pressure seemed to be causing him issues, and he was rushing his throws and not reading the defense well. There were a few times where he just didn't see a defensive back underneath the route in a zone, and he threw probably four near-picks, in addition to one actual interception. He was working with the ones, but just didn't seem to find a rhythm at any point. It was interesting, because early on in the day he seemed poised for his best day of camp, and was rocketing throws throughout individual drills, but once the 11-on-11 started, he seemed to be swimming a little bit. It was just one day, and it seemed like the offense as a whole struggled with all of the blitzing, but it's something to keep an eye on.
Jerry Neuheisel also looked nowhere near as good as yesterday, working with the 2s, but his struggles seemed to have more to do with the pass protection than anything. He managed the situation a little bit better than Rosen, often looking to gain a few yards with his legs or throw the ball out of bounds rather than force a quick, covered throw downfield.
In terms of injuries, Jim Mora told us after practice that Steven Manfro is likely going to head back to Westwood and could have a minor surgery to clean up a meniscus issue in his surgically repaired knee. It's expected to be a minor procedure. Ishmael Adams also spent the day on the sidelines after an ankle issue yesterday, but Mora seemed to think he'd be fine soon.
We forgot to mention him yesterday, but Tahaan Goodman has had a really good couple of days here. He's playing with a really physical edge right now and seems to be playing very naturally. Randall Goforth wasn't doing a whole lot in team drills today after looking like he tweaked his ankle yesterday a little, so Goodman worked in with the first string and had a really nice day. He was the one who picked off Rosen's first throw of the day, tracking back on a ball that was directed toward Jordan Payton on a deep post.
The freshman safeties are going to push him though. Octavius Spencer and Nathan Meadors both look like they're going to compete for playing time. Meadors had some great reps during 1-on-1s where he looked really natural in man coverage, and then Spencer showed, again, some really nice instincts in 11-on-11. It might be worthwhile to move one of them to corner, if need be, to get those sorts of instincts on the field.
Bolu Olorunfunmi continues to impress with his running style and surprising agility. He had a great run today where he showed off really nice short-area quickness to get into the second level of the defense. He doesn't have great top-end speed, and in fact got caught from behind by a defensive back during one run, but there's a lot to like there early. The drops were a little bit of an issue again today, though, so that'll bear monitoring. He did have a nice one-on-one rep where he ran a nice route and boxed out Jayon Brown for a score, though.
We have also really liked what we've seen from Cameron Griffin, the outside linebacker. He was working with the second string at one point, and did a really nice job making Kolton Miller's life pretty hard. He has enough size to him that he can't be bullied off the line, but his athleticism makes it really hard for an offensive tackle to match up against him. He's still learning the game and probably can't be an every down guy right now, but his athleticism could get him some playing time.
Keeping it with the Camerons, Cameron Judge looked really effective as a blitzer today. He has a great natural feel for it, seemingly, and did a nice job of disguising his blitzes by hiding behind the bigger linemen and piggy-backing on their penetration. He caused a lot of disruption in the backfield.
Denzel Fisher has continued to come on, and today had a really nice play during 11-on-11 where he stuck like glue to Jordan Lasley and then batted away Rosen's pass when it arrived. He has also had a nice last two days.
Sotonye Jamabo hasn't looked great at running back thus far, but he had his best run today where he sliced through the defense on a run up the middle and broke through for a long gain. When he gets out into the open field, his long legs eat up a ton of ground pretty quickly. During blocking drills, though, for the second straight day walkon linebacker Jack Savage absolutely blew him up. His dad, baseball coach John Savage, was in attendance as well.
UCLA spent a lot of time practicing the receiver screen game, which the Bruins used to great effect over the last half of the 2014 season. They had a drill set up where it was effectively a two-on-one, with the receiver, a blocker, and a defensive back lined up to the right of the quarterbacks. The receiver would catch the ball and then run behind the blocker who was taking on the defensive back. For what it's worth, Rosen hit all of the short, lateral type throws really well even during his 11-on-11 struggles, and that's a significant portion of this offense.
Kenny Young has gotten so much better at pass defense that it's silly. He had a great rep during the one-on-ones where he maybe held a little bit off of the line, but then jumped a route perfectly for an interception. He looks significantly more comfortable in space than he did last season.
Nate Iese made another one-handed grab today, this one coming in the back of the endzone for a touchdown. Again, he got a lot of work at both fullback and tight end and caught a few balls throughout practice.
A guy we haven't mentioned is Josh Woods, but he's made some strides physically and is starting to look more like a college linebacker. He did well in coverage during one-on-ones, and while we would still anticipate a redshirt here, he's definitely making progress.
Deon Hollins was really disruptive today, and lined up at a variety of spots on the line, beating most of the tackles he was lined up against at least once or twice. There was a sequence where he basically had a "sack" on three reps in a row. Conor McDermott handled him well during one-on-ones, but Hollins looked good in team stuff.
The starting offensive line once again dominated the one-on-one periods. McDermott, Kenny Lacy, Jake Brendel, Alex Redmond, and Caleb Benenoch together didn't lose a rep that we saw. Redmond, in particular, is playing with a vicious sort of mean streak that we didn't see much of last year. He threw Eddie Vanderdoes to the ground on one rep and seems to be playing with a real edge. Brendel has also been impressive, bottling up Kenneth Clark pretty well during their reps.
Tevita Halalilo looked good for the freshmen offensive linemen today, matching up well against guys like Najee Toran, who he held up really well on one rep. Halalilo and Josh Wariboko have been battling for a second-string guard spot, and Halalilo probably has the edge right now from what we've seen.
It was a much better kicking day today. Ka'imi Fairbairn made all five of his kicks despite a strong wind in his face.
UCLA will practice again tomorrow at 3 p.m. and our guess would be that it'll be the first day in pads.
UCLA Football Thursday Practice Report
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