The UCLA Bruins returned to the Intramural Field on Monday, kicking off their 2016 fall camp with a practice session that stretched well over two hours.
Head coach Jim Mora sounded pleased when he met with reporters afterward, saying he felt it was the best opening practice the team has had since he's been with the program. The location might have had an effect -- players were thrilled to start camp on campus rather than at Cal State San Bernardino, where it's been held the previous three years. There was a nice breeze that surely made it easier on the players.
For the most part, the lineups remained the same from what we saw during spring practice a few months ago.
A noticeable change, though, was the insertion of redshirt junior Poasi Moala at right guard with the first-team offense. Moala had seen some time there in the spring, but it had mostly been a rotation of Kenny Lacy and Najee Toran with the ones. Moala fared well and seemed to pick up pressure nicely, particularly in dealing with Eddie Vanderdoes, who was a full participant in his return from last year's knee injury. Lacy slotted in at left guard, while Toran worked with the second unit.
On the defensive side, the biggest addition was obviously Vanderdoes and the biggest change was Randall Goforth back to free safety alongside Jaleel Wadood. Goforth, the veteran of the secondary, had worked at cornerback in the spring given the lack of depth and the move of nickelback Ishmael Adams to the offensive side. Fabian Moreau and Nathan Meadors were the starting cornerbacks, and Moreau made a tremendous play when Josh Rosen tested him deep, staying with Eldridge Massington along the sideline before going up to knock away a pass. His coverage skills are a major X-factor for the defense.
The defense probably outperformed the offense, as would be expected this early in camp and without full pads. Rosen had time to throw and said afterward he's liked the development of the line in that regard. Having continuity on the interior, with center Scott Quessenberry surrounded by the same two guards on the first unit, would be a major help in that department.
Rosen made a number of good throws throughout the two hours but was victim to several drops, and assistant coach Eric Yarber made sure to let him know he was doing his job while his receivers weren't. True freshman Devon Modster probably had the best performance among those battling for the backup role, and Mora said he was really impressed with his first showing. He made two tremendous throws -- one to fellow newcomer Jordan Wilson, who made a sprawling catch between two defenders, and another to Theo Howard, who beat Denzel Fisher deep and made a fine over-the-shoulder catch. Howard later had another long reception from Matt Lynch that went for a touchdown, continuing his ascension following a strong spring.
Kenny Young told reporters the plan moving forward at middle linebacker will be for him and Isaako Savaiinaea to alternate days with the first unit, as it was in the spring. That competition is one of the juiciest in camp, and each player had some really good moments Monday. Young made a nice read on an Adams crossing route, combining with Jayon Brown to react on the pass and break it up. Savaiinaea moved well laterally to chase down ball carriers and also had an impressive pass break up where he showed off his instincts to get to the spot.
Josh Woods and Mique Juarez teamed with Savaiinaea to form a good-looking second group. Woods had perhaps the best defensive play of the day, reacting to a throw up the middle that had been tipped away by Adarius Pickett and returning it for a touchdown.
The running backs rotated quite a bit, but Soso Jamabo got a bulk of the first-unit reps. He looked bigger than he did in the spring, running with more power in between the tackles, but still fluid as a pass catcher out of the backfield.
Nate Starks had a nice day as well, while Bolu Olorunfunmi showing once again why this is considered a very good position group for the Bruins. On one play, Olorunfunmi broke right, waited for fullback Cameron Griffin to seal the edge before cutting back inside and allowing a pulling Quessenberry to get to the second level and pave the way for an easy score. He's got really good vision to go along with his assertive style.
The other fullback, Ainuu Taua, had a bullish catch-and-run, turning up field to flatten a helpless Keyon Riley while knocking off his own helmet in the process. Mora said the team has to find a way to get him the ball in those situations if that continues to be the norm.
Takkarist McKinley was a nuisance off the edge, but perhaps the most impressive thing about him is his restraint to hold off if he knows he won't get to the quarterback in time. Instead, McKinley sits back and leaps to get in the way. It's become a sort of a trademark for him in these practices. Deon Hollins also had a couple good rushes from the outside, getting to the quarterback before the ball was released. What was also impressive was McKinley moving to the sideline to vomit for a minute or so, getting cooled off with some water on his head, and then going back in and not missing a beat.
Adewale Omotosho was impressive among the newcomers, running fluid routes and showing nice hands on some difficult throws. Brandon Burton looked great physically, but there appears to be a lot of depth in front of him at the moment.
Redshirt freshman receiver Cordell Broadus has left the program again and Mora said he was glad Broadus gave football another shot back in the spring, and that he knows Broadus will go on to do big things with his other passions, including film making and modeling.
Mora confirmed that freshman Demetric Felton (shoulder surgery) is out for the year. Freshman offensive lineman Francisco Perez (torn meniscus) and freshman defensive lineman Marcus Moore (back) would be brought along slowly, Mora said. Perez did some conditioning work off to the side.
The Bruins return to the field Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. for a practice that will be open to the public.