After what seemed like a somewhat lackluster practice on Monday, particularly for the offense, UCLA had a much better and more energized practice Wednesday morning, with the offense working in some creativity to move the ball and score during the 11-on-11 period.
It was actually really interesting to watch. Probably the most fun play was an off tackle run by Ainuu Taua where he showed off, again, his surprising athleticism and quickness. He actually juked Josh Woods (who was back in full pads today) and nearly rumbled all the way to the endzone after a 40-yard or so gain. We haven't seen a whole lot of fullback running, but Taua and Cameron Griffin certainly look athletically capable if called upon.
We also saw a variety of end-arounds and misdirections during the first 11-on-11 period, and it was refreshing to see that. UCLA seemed to install a bit more offense today, and it showed, with the defense (which looked like it also installed some new stuff in response) sometimes struggling to get lined up correctly. It also looked as if UCLA played more 2s on 2s, giving some of the young guys more of an opportunity to get work.
The offensive line was much the same as it has been, but with Kenny Lacy working in at guard in place of Poasi Moala, who has been nursing a hand injury. With Lacy seemingly bouncing back and forth between first and second-string, and with all of the issues at guard, we'd be interested to see what Andre James could do at guard. And the thing of it is, of the offensive linemen not named Kolton Miller or Conor McDermott, Lacy probably looks, physically, the most like an offensive tackle, with long arms and good height. So if you moved James inside to take one of those spots, it might be worth looking at what Lacy could do on the outside. Among the second stringers, Josh Wariboko had a really rough day, and seems to be struggling with picking up his assignments.
Zach Bateman wasn't at practice, for reasons unknown (we didn't get any coaches today, so we had no one to ask). Nate Starks was also absent, from what we saw. At the very least, he didn't participate in team drills. McDermott went down with some sort of arm injury, but it's hard to know how serious it is. James filled in for him at left tackle. Breland Brandt was back out on the field working with Sal Alosi, and Mique Juarez did a little more than he even did on Monday. Dechaun Holiday and Colin Samuel were also with Alosi for most of practice.
Today during OL/DL drills, we saw the tight ends work alongside the offensive line in blocking drills for one of the first times this camp. Nate Iese has really improved as a blocker over the last couple of years, and looked pretty good against even going against bigger defensive linemen like Rick Wade. Wade, for his part, had another good practice after looking very good on Monday.
The depth chart on both sides of the ball was basically the same as it has been, except that this was Kenny Young's day with the ones at middle linebacker. The defense was really interesting today, as UCLA worked in a lot of nickel packages and some goal-line stuff. Woods looks like he's going to have a particularly multi-faceted role, as we saw him line up in a few different positions in the defense depending on what offensive personnel were on the field. As we speculated, he might be the linebacker who can best replicate all of Myles Jack's many talents, even if he is not quite that level of athlete. He also looks great physically, and told us he's up to 235 pounds. He had a few mistakes today given that it was his first day back, but he looks like a real talent.
We're sounding like a broken record here, but Bolu Olorunfunmi once again popped for us at running back. Sotonye Jamabo has certainly been very good, and has definitely improved his running style from a year ago, but Olorunfunmi looks like he's made even more considerable improvements, and in this new downhill offense, he seems to really shine. He again had a few nice plays running the ball out of the backfield, but what was really impressive were the one-on-ones, where he caught the ball cleaner and with better technique than he really ever has in the past. He had a beautiful over the shoulder catch that looked completely natural. He has dropped a couple this spring, but his self-described granite hands are looking considerably softer these days.
Ishmael Adams continued his strong camp at wide receiver. He had one drop in the back corner of the end zone after a beautiful route got him open by about ten yards, but several plays later he had a very similar play and made the catch. He actually worked at outside receiver a bit today, though he was still with the twos from what we saw. Eldridge Massington, for his part, had probably his best practice of the spring, and made a number of catches in both 11-on-11 and skeleton.
We weren't completely keeping track, but we only noted one false start, and it was a pretty minor one that in a game could have gone either way, with the defense seemingly jumping at the same time. UCLA's offensive line has made some real progress in the last week in terms of dealing with the new cadence and improving on their communication.
William Lockett looked like he went down with a right leg injury of some sort during the final period of 11-on-11. Stephen Johnson looks like he might be fully back on offense after the week-long experiment at cornerback, unless he snuck in a rep during one-on-ones when we weren't looking.
Najee Toran has shown some really nice run-blocking skills this camp, and his pass protection is improving. During the 9-on-7, he laid a couple of very good blocks on run plays. The thing with him is that even though he gives up some weight, he makes up for it by hitting guys with such force and aggression that it likely feels like he's packing a few more pounds. It'd be awesome if he could add another five or ten pounds, especially for pass protection purposes, but we feel more confident about him than we do with Moala at the other spot.
J.J. Molson was pretty good during end-of-practice kicking, missing one but making his three other kicks.