In front of a few thousand Bruin fans, and some soccer families (there was a club soccer tournament also happening on the IM Field), UCLA had a showcase of sorts.
It was the last practice open to the public on UCLA's campus this season. The team will pack up the trucks and resume fall camp in San Bernardino Monday.
With the team in full pads, the practice was a good amount of team periods, with the offense starting with the ball at the 20, red zone, backed-up and in a two-minute, and the periods generally went pretty well, on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback Josh Rosen was a bit sharper than he was in previous sessions, and is incrementally making progress. His throws are sharper, more accurate and powerful, and in team on Saturday afternoon he made slightly quicker decisions. Perhaps his best connection of the night was on a post to Eldridge Massington, where he laid the ball in perfectly. In one-on-ones he hit Kenny Walker deep, didn't quite lead him enough, making Walker hold up some, but it was still a good throw. Rosen sprayed it around successfully on the day, hitting Nate Iese and Alex Van Dyke on digs and crossing routes, and throwing very accurately on dump-offs to fullbacks and running backs. Rosen looked very comfortable stepping up into the pocket to make a throw.
The #2 QB, Mike Fafaul, again had a very effective practice. When Rosen faltered in two-minute to get the #1 offense into scoring position, Fafaul didn't, bringing the 2s down into the redzone with making easy, short passes and executing. Before fall camp, one of the biggest worries about this team was who would be able to operate the offense if Rosen somehow couldn't go, but Fafaul has done quite a bit in the first week of fall camp to allay those worries.
The practice started out with 11s, but just with running plays. Both the offense and the running backs had their moments, with Soso Jamabo going hard through some nice holes. But the defense tightened up, with linebacker Josh Woods making consecutive stops, one when he showed great pursuit on the edge and one through the middle. Defensive end Rick Wade, too, showed very good pursuit shutting down a stretch run. It seemed like Bolu Olorunfunmi flashed again; he really is a load on those stretch runs, when he turns up the field and has his weight going forward. The best collision of the day was when Olorunfunmi turned up field and put his shoulder down to meet safety Adarius Pickett -- with both getting in a good lick. Freshman tailback Brandon Stephens had a workhorse type of day, getting a good amount of reps, and showing a high motor and some nice ability to put his foot in the ground and get up field. Usually true freshman tailbacks are swimming in their first week of college practice, but Stephens has been impressive, which is all that much more impressive.
Fullback Cameron Griffin had a couple of very nice receptions, on digs and dump-offs. He looked like he got his bell run about halfway through practice and was walked by a trainer over to the training area, and looking pretty tentative doing it.
It is a bit stunning how much the tight ends are utilized in Kennedy Polamalu's offense -- at least the offense we've seen this week. Iese, Austin Roberts, Caleb Wilson and Jordan Wilson are getting a great deal of touches. Roberts dropped a perfectly thrown ball by Rosen on a crossing route, however, and he's had a bit of an issue with holding onto the ball.
Darren Andrews might have had his best practice of fall, looking like he's in one of the base packages of the offense, and making a living Saturday on short dig routes. He caught a really nice ball from Rosen on a well-placed back-shoulder throw down the middle of the field. Massington, too, might have had his best session, adding to that nice post with some solid crossing routes. Mossi Johnson was seemingly getting more reps with the 1s today, too.
We'll give up one play to you that you're going to see this season: receiver Ishmael Adams goes in motion, but then hops into the backfield to take a hand-off.
The offensive line generally had a pretty good day, opening up a good amount of holes in the running game and providing good protection for their quarterbacks.
We have to say -- if this offense even slightly attempts this type of variety of packages and plays, it's going to be fun to watch this season. We don't want to get suckered into believing this is how the offense will look; we've done that before, and then the season come around and the playbook gets limited. Perhaps Polamalu actually will use all the plays he's showing in practice.
The defensive line allowed a few decent holes in that first run-game period, but then tightened up. With Takkarist McKinley suited up but not participating, Deon Hollins was the next man up for the morning session. But he also looked like he got shaken up about halfway through practice and sat out the rest. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner did most of the filling in at the vacant defensive end spot, but Wade and Keisean Lucier-South got some time, and they all had moments. In fact, all three got virtual sacks on the day. Tuioti-Mariner had a little huddle with Vanderdoes before one snap, and then stunted on the following play to get a sack.
Perhaps the most watchable period was the one-on-ones and, in particular, the OL/DL one-on-ones. The biggest standout rep was when DT Eddie Vanderdoes worked OG Poasi Moala on an excellent swim move, but Moala came back on the next rep and played Vanderdoes even. OT Conor McDermott only took one rep from what we saw, and he held off Tuioti-Mariner. The most dominant performance by the OL was easily put in by tackle Kolton Miller, who perfectly contained Matt Dickerson on three successive reps, showing really exceptional feet and balance doing it. Perhaps the most surprising performance was turned in by walk-on OL Cristian Garcia, working at back-up left tackle. He stoned Keisean Lucier-South twice. The other OLs that did well were freshman tackle Alex Akingbulu, going up against Breland Brandt, the linebacker who worked one-on-ones as a defensive end. Walk-on center Markus Boyer didn't only win his reps against walk-on DL Preston Awedisean, he pushed him back a few yards. Josh Wariboko also did well, matching up against Chigozie Nnnoruka and Jake Burton. Center Scott Quessenberry and DT Eli Ankou each beat other. Among the DL, Nick Terry had his way with freshman OL Michael Alves but he and Najee Toran had a couple of fairly even reps. Terry also had a good series in 11s, when he got a stuff on a run and a sack.
The RB/LB one-on-ones are interesting, too, especially in the blocking/pass rush drill. The two fullbacks, Griffin and Ainuu Taua, showed to be very capable blockers, with Taua actually blowing back his pass rusher a couple of times. The tailbacks, too, showed good pass-blocking ability, which was a bit surprising since it usually takes a few seasons in the program before a running back can be an effective blocker. Jamabo, Olorunfunmi and Nate Starks all contained their man well, and even true freshman Brandon Stephens had a couple of good blocking reps.
The offense got a little sloppy toward the end, with it looking evident that there was some fatigue setting in.
The field goal kickers closed out practice with their best performance. J.J. Molson made four of five from 32-49, and Andrew Strauch was perfect on his five.
Both Molson and Strauch, too, had good days on kick-offs, putting just about every one at least five years deep into the endzone.
Perhaps the second-best hit of the practice was by Dylan Luther on kick-off coverage, popping returner Stephen Johnson.
Next stop: San Bernardino.