How is Noel Mazzone feeling?
Noel is feeling better. He’s been at practice. A little bit limited, but I think he’s getting stronger every day. I think we’ll still play it by ear and determine as we get closer to the game, with our doctors, whether he’s going to be on the field or in the press box or what his role will be. We’re prepared to go either way. He’s not feeling great, but you know Noel. He coaches ball. He loves that game environment. I don’t know. I believe he’ll be at the game. I’m not quite sure what his role will be yet. The important thing here — that’s a serious medical condition that he has — is we make sure that he’s safe.
Have you guys developed a contingency plan?
We’ve been working on that since — he was at one practice, and then he had to go. So we’ve been working on how we’ll handle things if he’s on the sideline, or if he’s in the press box, or if he’s back at the hotel watching it. We’re fine. We’re good. I think that’s one of the benefits of having a staff that’s been together, that’s had continuity. It allows you to be able to adjust quickly when things like this happen.
How could Mazzone’s absence potentially affect Josh Rosen?
I don’t think it’ll affect him at all. Taylor’s down there. Kennedy’s down there. Adrian’s down there. Eric’s down there. I’m down there. We all talk to each other. During a game, it’s such a collaborative effort. I don’t think it’ll affect Josh at all. Not a lot affects Josh, as you guys know.
Is Josh starting to internalize the lessons from the season in the last few weeks?
I think I saw it week to week during the season. I think he had a really tremendous ability to process information and move forward, applying it from week to week. That doesn’t mean that every week he played to his full potential. As we all know, when you’re young, there’s going to be some setbacks. But I did see him learn lessons and apply it. I think what we’ll see in the offseason and going into spring, is we’ll see a guy that has more command of the offense and of himself, and much more of a leadership role on this team.
Has anything about him surprised you?
I didn’t know that he would be able to operate with the level of poise that he has. When things have gone well, or he’s struggled, he’s maintained a real consistency of personality. I think that would be what surprised me. Being around a lot of young guys, both at the NFL level and at this level, you see some inconsistencies. And then when you’re playing a position where he touches the ball every snap, you probably see more inconsistency. But Josh has been, I think, incredibly consistent for a true freshman.
You’ve known him for a while. How have you seen him mature as a person?
I think he’s matured tremendously. I met him early in 2012. He had a reputation for being somewhat aloof or arrogant, or kind of a know-it-all. I have not seen that person in a couple years. What I’ve seen is a very mature, selfless kid that wants to be involved with his team, his teammates. I think he has a lot of confidence, but he’s measured that with a level of humbleness that people respect. He’s always anxious to learn and absorb information. He never acts like he knows it all. Even when he has an idea, the way he presents it is very respectful to everybody. He’s a special kid. I think it all goes back to his family. If you know his mom, his dad and his sisters, his grandmother, who I’ve gotten to know as well, you see why he’s so grounded.
How do you balance using bowl practices to develop younger guys versus preparing for the game?
We prepare 100 percent of the time for the game. There’s your balance. The scale is tipped. We’ve got offseason and spring to worry about developing young guys. This is about trying to play as well as we can on Saturday and go out with a win. Like I said up there, for a guy like Jake Brendel or Jordan Payton or any of those other seniors to be able to say they won more games in their four years than any other UCLA player had, I think it’s a big thing for them. I think it also sets a foundation for what we’re trying to accomplish.
Does it change any of the emotions for you to go into this game with all these seniors that you recruited?
It’s the first time. I can’t tell you. I can tell you that I’ve been a little more conscious of it through practices and meetings. A little more aware of them, knowing that they’re — most of them, not Jake — they’re my first recruiting class. Yeah, there’s some sentiment there. I don’t know how I’ll feel on Saturday at the end of the game. I imagine, knowing myself, I’m pretty emotional about these kids. I’ve grown pretty close to most of them. We’ll see. Hopefully, it’s in a real positive light.
What’s the tenor of the conversations you’ve had with Paul Perkins about his future?
He’s put together two tremendous back-to-back seasons. He’s really played well for two years. Paul and I have not spoken about his future yet as far as the NFL. I know that he did go to the NFL and get his draft grade. I know what that was, but I feel more comfortable with him telling you what it was if he wanted to divulge that information. Like all of our guys, I would encourage them to really think long and hard about what they want to do. Give them the best advice that I can muster having experience at both levels. The one thing I try to tell these guys is, try not to rush through life. Whenever any of our players come back that are in the NFL, they tell those guys, ‘Stay here as long as you can.’ Eric Kendricks came back a couple of weeks ago, brought him up to break the team down, that’s what he said. He said, ‘You guys don’t know how fun this is. Take advantage of it. Don’t rush through life.’ So I think that’s what I’d tell them.
Have any told you that they’re definitely staying yet?
How would you describe Paul as a runner?
I think he’s a very complete back. It’s obvious when he has the ball in his hands that he’s an elusive and explosive and powerful runner. But it’s some of those other things that he does well that we don’t always recognize, such as pass protection. He’s very, very good in pass protection. He has good hands coming out of the backfield. He’s an excellent receiver, whether it’s the screen game or working him into a route. He’s very good, he’s very patient setting up blocks. He has a very great understanding of our offense and so he understands the pace of when a hole might open. And then he’s got the speed to get away from people. When he gets into the open field, he doesn’t get dragged down much. The thing that nobody sees is the day to day internal leadership he displays to our other players. He’s a tremendous leader. Tremendous example every day.
Has anyone told you that they are definitely leaving yet?
No. Well, Alex Redmond. He's gone already, he quit. He signed with an agent.
Anything else interesting personnel-wise?
We're pretty healthy. Johnny Johnson is doing OK. Marcus Rios, he tweaked his ankle back at home on Saturday, so I don't know what his status will be. He didn't practice today. It seems like we have a lot of corners right now, we kind of rotate them through. We're in pretty good shape on defense.
Is Nathan Meadors still at corner?
Yep. I'm trying to think on offense -- Kenny Lacy, his ankle, he hasn't been able to do much. He has tried, but he has struggled, so that left guard spot we're a little light.
Does Isaako Savaiinaea look like he did before his ankle now?
He does, he looks better. He looks like he's got his mobility back and his speed and his conditioning and his endurance. So we'll work him in there with Kenny Young. The guy who has played tremendous is Jayon Brown. He's really done a nice job. He's been a really pleasant surprise. I'm excited about our team in the future. We've got to get through these injuries and get some guys back. I think one thing we've got to do is just every year, assume that we're going to lose offensive linemen. Over-recruit that position. Which we've tried to do, but we'll do so even more now. We've been limited in scholarships in past years, but this year we've got a lot. We're in good shape with that.
What was the biggest switch with Isaako from last year to this?
Probably just experience and confidence. Time in the system, experience in the system. I think Scotty connects really well with him, and Aaron Wallace, for some reason. I think they're both kind of quiet. They really respond to the way Scotty coaches him. And I would never take anything away from (Jeff Ulbrich) but everyone responds to a different way of coaching. Aaron Wallace is probably the most improved and underrated player on our team and overlooked. No one ever talks about him, but wasn't he in the top five in the Pac-12 in sacks? He's playing in the East-West Shrine Game. He was invited to both the NFL PA Game and the East-West Shrine Game, and I think he's decided to play in the East-West Shrine Game. But he's invited to both. So he's very quietly having a very good season. You look at him and you go "that's an NFL linebacker right there." I think he's got a future playing football, I really do.
With Nate Meadors how do you ease the transition when you go from safety to corner midseason?
Ease it? (Laughs) You don't ease it. YOu just throw them in there. I think one of the things Demetrice Martin does really well is work those guys through different positions starting in camp. Part of the reason is that you want them all to have a feel for every coverage and how they are all put together. And so then when you get to a situation where you have to play a guy like Nate, who's played safety, at corner, there's some familiarity. It's also easier from an assignment standpoint. You're playing with less field than you are safety, so I think that makes it a little easier. But I think it comes down to Nate having confidence in himself and preparing the way he's prepared. He's got a little swagger to him, he doesn't play on his heels.
For the guard situation, would you ever consider burning a guy's redshirt for a bowl game, like say Andre James?
No, we would not do that. We've got options. I feel confidence that whoever lines up there will play very very well, after watching practice the last few days. Poasi Moala's back playing, the cast is off, he's got full function. He's been back for a few weeks, so he's an option. Cristian Garcia has played well, is playing well. We'll be OK. It is what it is. It is really unique, I'm not sure if it's just UCLA or all of college football, but the offensive line situation. So, like I said, we've got to do a great job of over-recruiting that position.
When did Kenny Orjioke let you know this was his last season?
Somewhere in the season, the middle of the season. Kenny is extremely bright. He graduated. He was honored by the NCAA. He has started a company, that's doing very very well. He's just one of those young men who feels like he needs to move on to the next phase of his life, which is as a successful businessman.
Could you sense that before he told you, that he was thinking about?
Not really, but it didn't surprise me. Just kind of watching him, knowing him. With a lot of these guys you see their interests diversify as they go through college. Maybe they realize that dream of playing pro football isn't going to be a reality so they shift their focus to other things. That's one of the things that you encourage, that they leave college with a passion for something other than football, so they can step forward and be motivated and ready to attack the world every day, and I love that about our guys and Kenny in particular.
With Jerry Neuheisel moving on to probably grad assistant, has Mike Fafaul indicated that he's going to stick around?
Mike has indicated he'll stick around. I'm not sure what Jerry is going to do yet. We've going to talk about that. We've had preliminary discussions, but Jerry's awesome. Jerry is something special. He's one of my favorite people in the world after only knowing him for four years. How can you not love the guy? His attitude, his work ethic. Do you guys know that he was named the Scout Team Player of the Year again? So your backup quarterback says the way I can best help this team is to go over and work with the first team defense as the scout team quarterback. That's rare. That does not happen. So he did that, and was really proud to say he is the first two-time winner of the Nick Pasquale memorial service team player of the year award. And he took great pride in it.