UCLA's star sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen struggled Tuesday, in the second session of fall camp.
It didn't start out well for him; in on-air drills, he couldn't connect with receivers on simple timing patterns, particularly on 10-yard outs. The rest of the day wasn't great, and he really didn't do well in 11-on-11, where he either hesitated to get the ball off, or threw inaccurately.
Rosen was visibly upset about the day, clearly.
Initially we were trying to determine whether it was Rosen or more of a problem with receivers and their separation, or timing in the passing game.
He did suffer from some drops, again, for a second day, but that wasn't enough to explain the peformance.
But Rosen's three back-ups -- senior Mike Fafaul and true freshmen Devon Modster and Matt Lynch -- all had good days.
And it wasn't a matter of Rosen being under too much pressure. There was some, but all in all, for a second day of fall camp when there usually is almost no pocket integrity, Rosen had a good amount.
Fafaul had a very good day, throwing quickly and accurately, making plays on the bread-and-butter short passing game.
Modster, who clearly has been designated as third string in the first two days of practice, also looked good. In 11-on-11, he connected on some nice throws and moved the offense, threading needles and throwing accurately. He had a few poor throws, mostly throwing behind the receiver on quick-hitters, but that would be expected for a true freshman quarterback in his second day of practice.
Lynch, in red-zone 7-on-7, had a great throw to tight end Caleb Wilson on a seam route for a touchdown. On the very next throw, he connected with tight end Jordan Wilson on a crossing route, fitting it into a tight window for a touchdown. Then, on his third consecutive throw, he put nice touch on a flag route to Ishmael Adams for a touchdown. Then, on his fourth in a row, he checked down to a streaking running back for a big gain. Wide receivers coach Eric Yarber ran up to Lynch immediately after that series of throws and congratulated him, and it got the entire offensive sideline pretty pumped up.
And Fafaul, Modster and Lynch all did it with far less protection, being under fire a bit more than Rosen.
Rosen, if you remember, struggled some starting out last fall camp. In fact, there was some question whether Jerry Neuheisel was winning the competition early on last August. So, Rosen struggling isn't unprecedented.
The starting offensive line looks solid at this point. The tackles are losing some reps against explosive defensive end Takkarist McKinley, but it's understandable. Right guard Poasi Moala might be the biggest mystery among the starters but, so far, he's doing well.
There is a big drop-off, however, when you get to the second- and third-string offensive lines. Pass protection is spotty, with defensive ends Deon Hollins and Keisean Lucier-South, who are running with the defensive 2s and 3s, easily run around the back-up tackles. It's not exactly fair when they're matched up against a walk-on at tackle like Cristian Garcia.
Just eye-balling some of the team, there are definitely some guys who physically have changed. True freshman linebacker Breland Brandt, who participated in spring practice, is perhaps the most noticeably changed, bigger in his arms and legs. Offensive tackle Kenny Lacy is definitely bigger in his upper body; and freshman linebacker Lokeni Toailoa continues to improved his body, slimming down and looking more solid.
The wide receivers were a mixed bag Tuesday. It's clear UCLA now has guys with some top-end speed who can get behind a defense. Freshman Theo Howard did it a couple of times Tuesday. Perhaps the biggest surprise so far has been freshman Audie Omotosho. We sae him in a summer workout and thought he was really raw and a long ways away. But he's almost unrecognizable from what we saw of him a couple of months ago. He's quick off the line, runs pretty decent routes and catches the ball well.
Among the veterans, Ishmael Adams and Kenny Walker look like they are capable of getting the most separation even on shorter routes. Walker is doing well to hold onto the ball, which has been his bugaboo, and looks very comfortable in more possession-like routes.
Eldridge Massington, however, has struggled with his hands, on both Monday and Tuesday.
Alex Van Dyke, for how big he is, tends to catch the ball at his body instead of with his hands, which negates his size advantage.
Tight end Nate Iese was more involved Tuesday, having the ball thrown his way a couple of times. So far we're impressed with both Wilsons, redshirt sophomore tight end Caleb Wilson (the transfer from USC), and freshman Jordan Wilson. Both are big bodies, and run straight ahead well, and have shown good hands. Jordan looks like he's still raw in his route-running, and neither look very quick laterally, but good running straight down the field. Walk-on tight end Giovanni Gentosi is getting a good number of reps and he's done well, catching the ball consistently and showing decent mobility.
Nate Starks seemed to flash among the running backs Tuesday -- perhaps because he worked mostly with the 1s. Soso Jamabo worked with the 2s and had some moments but he runs incredibly upright. Bolu Olorunfunmi continues to do well in finding seams on the outside and running hard. It's difficult to really judge the running backs that much while the team still is practicing without pads. Offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu said that freshman Jalen Starks is a tailback, not a fullback.
Perhaps the ofensive play of the day, again, went to fullback Ainuu Taua, who beat linebacker Mique Juarez on what looked like a wheel route for a touchdown, on a very well-thrown ball from Fafaul. It appeared that Juarez was surprised that Taua was that quick up the field.
If we had to say there's been a star of the first two days of practice, it's McKinley. Like we said, he beat McDermott easily in OL/DL drills, using his speed first to get around McDermott outside on one rep and then, in the next 1-on-1 rep, using his hands to get inside and again win the battle. In 11s, he was such a disruptive force, and not just in pass rushing but in penetration on running plays.
Defensive end Matt Dickerson and offensive tackle Kolton Miller had some really good match-ups on the other side, with neither really budging or giving into the other. Dickerson has some noticeable strength and keeps a low base when he rushes, but Miller used good footwork to keep him from gaining too much ground. It's safe to say they're making each other better.
Defensive lineman Jacob Tuioti-Mariner had the other most impressive rep, beating Poasi Moala with a swim move inside after he gained leverage off the snap. The playing experience Tuioti-Mariner brings to that second unit that includes newcomers Nick Terry and Rick Wade is evident, and he has been steady the first two days of camp.
Isaako Savaiinea worked mostly with the 1s Tuesday at middle linebacker, with Kenny Young primary with the 2s. There was quite a bit of mix-and-matching, though, among units on both offense and defense. Savaiinea had a good day, particularly in the 9-v-7 run drills. Brandt had one of the best linebacker moments Tuesday; there was a throw behind receiver Stephen Johnson that Brandt picked off and ran back for a touchdown. He got in a little scuffle with offensive tackle Zach Bateman after Brandt smoked Bateman around the edge. Brandt is very promising, having some great athleticism and bend for a guy his size.
Among the defensive backs, safety Will Lockett made a couple of great plays. He jumped a route near the goal line and nearly had a pick. He also had some good break-ups, continuing to show great ball instincts. Freshman Brandon Burton had a tremendous play from his free safety spot, really covering space quickly to knock away a pass that you didn't expect he could make. Physically he looks ready to play. Redshirt freshman Colin Samuel had a good breakup on a deep ball down the field, but then was the main victim of Fafaul, Modster and Lynch in redzone 11s.
Senior cornerback Fabian Moreau was very impressive, looking very seasoned, not biting on breaks or cuts. He smothered Massington on many match-ups.
In the field goal period at the end of practice, the field goal kickers struggled. Both J.J Molson and Andrew Strauch kicked from about 32 yards out, with Molson making just two of four, and Strauch just one of three.
The practices feel like they're moving slower than they did last season, and it's undoubtedly true. With the offense going under center sometimes, and plays taking upward of 30 seconds to get off instead of 20, the practice feels slower. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but a practice session does get in less plays at a slower pace like this.
One-time 2017 linebacker commit Rahyme Johnson from L.A. Salesian was at practice, along with teammate, DB Deommodore Lenoir, who is committed to Oregon. It's noteable because Oregon don't like their committed guys to visit other schools, even unofficially.