UCLA wrapped up practices in San Bernardino Friday night with a long, 80+ play scrimmage that saw the first team offense and defense go against a conglomeration of 2s and 3s. It was an interesting format, primarily because it involved Jerry Neuheisel and Josh Rosen splitting reps with the 1s on offense while Mike Fafaul got the vast majority of the snaps for the other team.
Rosen was the first quarterback out for the first-string offense, while Neuheisel got the second series. Both definitely had their moments, but if we had to give a very slight edge for the scrimmage, it would go to Neuheisel. He more consistently hit open receivers and made better decisions in the face of pressure. That said, Rosen made a few throws, again, that Neuheisel simply can't make, including a few lasers on crossing patterns over the middle the Neuheisel really doesn't have a chance of making. We can understand how it might not be an easy decision when it's made, since the two players have been fairly even throughout fall camp so far. Rosen clearly has the upside among the two, but Neuheisel has been, in a word, steadier, with fewer big-play mistakes. He's also had a fewer big plays, period, though. You could go around and around on the argument for a long time, but in our estimation, if it's close, we'd generally lean toward going with the upside, which means Rosen. He's more likely to make a mistake at this point, but he's also more likely to make big plays over the course of the year, and if you start him, the odds are good that he'll be a different, better player at the end of the year than he is at the beginning.
Big-play mistakes reared their ugly head when Rosen was in, but they didn't appear to be entirely his fault. The offense had two fumbles when he was in, one on a botched snap and one on a zone read, but the first was just a bad snap from Alex Redmond and the second seemed to be a communication error between Rosen and his running back. On the bad snap, Cameron Judge scooped the ball up for a score. Rosen also threw an interception in the back of the end zone, but there was a pretty clear pass interference on Jordan Payton that prevented him from getting to the spot. The Pac-12 refs calling the scrimmage naturally missed it. Rosen did have a really nice series toward the end. After suffering through a few drops by Devin Fuller and Tyler Scott, Rosen threaded a few nice balls into the middle of the field between defenders and started to throw to spots rather than waiting for the receivers to get open. That's a great sign for him, since this fall he hasn't had great timing and trust with his receivers at times, so hopefully this shows that he's growing comfort with some of them.
Aside from the quarterbacks, Sotonye Jamabo flashed in a big way tonight. Perhaps it's just when the lights are on in a game situation, but whatever it was, Jamabo had a sequence with three of his best runs in camp in quick succession. He looked much more decisive, and seemed to have a little more explosion in his legs. When he can start slashing through a defense, he's a tough guy to bring down, but the trick for him is just building enough momentum that his big body is tough to tackle. It was a really encouraging performance for him after a pretty quiet camp overall.
We can't mention running backs without mentioning Bolu Olorunfunmi, though. The freshman running back had at least two plays of 20+ yards (Jamabo had three) but gained positive yardage basically every time he was in. He has a real knack for getting his pads squared and delivering the hit on defenders rather than taking the hit, which is something that Kennedy Polamalu loves. His really surprising quickness was on display as well on a really nice, shifty run in the open field in the first half of the scrimmage.
In one of the more interesting moments at the end of the scrimmage, Adarius Pickett took a few reps in the backfield and...looked explosive and really good. He had two or three really nice runs up the middle, juking Myles Jack on one of them, and looked completely natural on offense. He's had a nice week on defense, but we really wonder what he'd look like if he devoted himself full time to running back. Mossi Johnson also took reps at safety during that period, and he also shined a little bit, laying the wood on Roosevelt Davis on one play.
For the scrimmage, UCLA's first-string offensive line was Kolton Miller, Kenny Lacy, Redmond, Fred Ulu-Perry, and Caleb Benenoch from left to right for the majority of the time, with Conor McDermott and Jake Brendel both still out. It's still a pretty darn good offensive line without those two, especially compared to years past. Most of the time, they gave each of Rosen and Neuheisel enough time to throw even with some heavy blitzing sent by Tom Bradley. There were still a few sacks, but generally Rosen and Neuheisel got fairly clean pockets.
We mentioned Judge earlier, but it bears repeating that he had a really nice scrimmage. He's emerged as a really effective blitzer in Bradley's scheme, both off the edge and through gaps in the interior of the offensive line. He appears to have really benefited from fitting into a single position (outside linebacker) and mixing into Bradley's defense. We expect him to get some real time in the defense this year.
Paul Perkins and Nate Starks both got limited time during the scrimmage. Perkins had just a couple of carries at the outset, and looked good, as usual. Starks' foot was bothering him a little bit, according to Mora, but he still managed to get out there for a few carries toward the end of the scrimmage and also looked pretty good. UCLA's running backs definitely looked good today, and were probably the best-looking position group on the field tonight.
We have to shout out Dechaun Holiday again, though we've been doing that a lot lately. Again, he showed off great physicality at cornerback along with the ability to run with receivers in the open field. In run support, it's hard to imagine him not being excellent on the edge, and perfect for defending against receiver screens and the like. We had some trepidation about calling him a corner at the beginning of camp, but we're leaning more and more each practice to thinking he can stick there.
Stephen Johnson also had a really nice scrimmage, looking explosive and quick. He did drop a kickoff, but it wasn't a catastrophic drop and he still had plenty of time to pick it up and run. He has a chance to be a really dynamic player, and he'll almost certainly play this year.
Myles Jack was all over the field making big plays today, and was really dominant pursuing to the edge against running backs. He also blocked a PAT which he returned for two points (and then dunked the football over the field goal post). He's just an incredible athlete, which he showed again today.
Kenny Walker took a long pass from Jerry Neuheisel for a touchdown down the right side of the field, and he looked really good catching the ball, showing great hand placement and technique on the ball. He's made some real strides as a pass-catcher and despite a much heavier usage rate this camp than previous years, he had only a couple of drops that we saw. Hopefully that translates to actual games this year, but it's encouraging to see.
Ka'imi Fairbairn had a rough day, missing one field goal and one PAT. His kickoffs were pretty good, and those are probably his strength as a kicker, but there are still some real question marks as a placekicker. The punters looked better than they have, with both Matt Mengel and Adam Searl booming some punts during warmups and then hitting some good ones during the scrimmage.
UCLA will not practice tomorrow, but will have a fan appreciation day at 9:15 a.m. out in San Bernardino. Fans are welcome to attend for autographs and the like.
UCLA Football Scrimmage Recap
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