UCLA had its final practice before the Spring Game on Saturday, and while it wasn't quite as sharp as Wednesday's for the offense, it was still another positive step for the team as they enter the final practice before August.
Conor McDermott was back on the field after suffering an apparent arm injury yesterday. He did some work in individual drills but didn't participate in 11-on-11 from what we saw. Breland Brandt, after doing some light work with Sal Alosi yesterday, was able to fully participate in practice today and was involved in 11-on-11. Zach Bateman was once again absent from practice due to a medical issue that shouldn't keep him out long term. William Lockett was back in practice after going down with a leg injury yesterday, and Nate Starks, who missed half of practice yesterday, was back today.
The offensive line saw a few differences today. With McDermott out, Andre James worked with the first string at left tackle, and Kenny Lacy continued to work in at right guard with the first string. The interesting move was that Poasi Moala, who has been pretty exclusively a guard for the last year or so, moved to right tackle with the second string and actually looked decent for a guy who hasn't played the position in a while.
With the changes up front, today was a return of the fearsome pass rush from the first couple of weeks of camp. Takkarist McKinley was impossible for basically anyone to deal with today, and he had at least four sacks, and some additional hurries. He has had a spectacular camp, and is definitely evoking some memories of the unblockable Datone Jones and even the fall camp Anthony Barr had before his junior year. Hopefully he has a big year so we don't look stupid. Deon Hollins also had a big practice, and seemed to be stunting quite a bit. Angus McClure actually made a point to yell to him (and maybe the assembled media) that Hollins has been the MVP of shedding this spring.
Josh Rosen, with all of the pass rush against him, scuffled a bit at times, and threw a pick-six to Randall Goforth on one of the first plays of 11-on-11. He rebounded to make some nice throws later, though. Mike Fafaul struggled as well in the face of the pass rush.
Rick Wade continues to have a really nice week, and he put together another very good practice today. He looks much more comfortable rushing the passer than he did at the beginning of camp, and just seems overall more comfortable and confident.
Nate Iese had a big day, catching one nice touchdown pass over Brandt and then also running a great route against Adarius Pickett for a nice gain. He seemed to be having a bit of a quiet camp until the last week, when he's started to make a bigger impact.
After a very good practice yesterday, Eldridge Massington arguably had an even better one today. He made a variety of great catches, but the best was a twisting catch from Rosen where he had to reach behind his back against the momentum of his route and then spin that way to continue running downfield. He made the play and turned what could have easily been an incompletion into a long touchdown. He had a diving catch as well, and just seemed much more in-sync with the offense and Rosen than he has to this point. It's very good to see that from him.
The receivers actually shined today, somewhat counterintuitively given that the quarterbacks seemed to struggle. It seemed, though, that every time the quarterbacks got time, they had receivers running free off of very good routes. Theo Howard had a nice day, as did Darren Andrews, and Ishmael Adams continues to look like an absolute natural. The last two days have been very positive for the receiver corps as a whole as it seeks to find a solid rotation heading into fall camp.
We have to shout out Denzel Fisher, who has had an up and down camp, but had a great play against Jordan Lasley, playing tight coverage on him and then getting him for a pass breakup. Lockett also had another good day, and had great coverage on Adams when Adams made one of his very good catches.
J.J. Molson made his one kick at the end of practice. He was sick yesterday, but actually was 3 for 3. He told us he thinks his range is 60 yards, and he said he kicked one 58 yards into the wind, so that's impressive.