As always, UCLA began in shorts and no pads, yet the environment still provided a good glimpse of what to expect the rest of spring.
The biggest question mark heading into Tuesday was the state of Josh Rosen and, throughout the two-hour session, he looked like he was back to normal, showing no effects from last year's shoulder surgery. He made some nice, crisp throws during the competitive periods of practice and, afterward, told reporters he was content with where he's at physically. Rosen's timing was a bit off, as would be expected on the first day when the defense is probably a bit further ahead, but he was putting the necessary touch on throws and didn't appear to be limited from a range standpoint.
It might be too early to tell completely, but the offense under new coordinator Jedd Fisch looked similar to what it did last year with Kennedy Polamalu calling the shots. A big difference, though, was the amount of stretch and counter run plays we saw as opposed to the up-the-middle runs from a year ago. There weren't many two-tight-end sets, either, but there were some flex packages that, for the most part, indicated that Fisch intends to be versatile with his scheme.
There wasn't a 9-on-7 run period during practice, as had been customary under Polamalu. And another difference was that the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 portions were split into two separate fields, maximizing reps and allowing for a livelier set up. Fisch, as to be expected since he doubles as the team's quarterbacks coach, appeared to be a bit more involved and vocal than his predecessor.
With new offensive line coach Hank Fraley taking over for Adrian Klemm, the configuration of the starting group was another intriguing thing heading into the practice. From left to right, the starting five consisted of Kolton Miller, Andre James, Scott Quessenberry, Najee Toran and Kenny Lacy, though head coach Jim Mora suggested that's all fluid as the program looks for the perfect combination and personnel.
At the receiver position, which is now under the tutelage of Jimmie Dougherty, it was the trio of Darren Andrews, Jordan Lasley and Theo Howard getting the first-team reps. Soso Jamabo, looking about the same physically, if not marginally leaner, was the No. 1 running back, followed by Bolu Olorunfunmi and Nate Starks, in that order.
There was also some movement in the secondary after the departures of a trio of seniors. Nathan Meadors and Johnny Johnson were the two starting corners, while Jaleel Wadood, who has changed jerseys from No. 2 to No. 4, and Adarius Pickett were the safeties. They were followed by a combination of William Lockett, Brandon Burton and Octavius Spencer. Burton, following the trend we saw quite a bit during open practices last year, had an interception in 7-on-7. Wadood, too, had an impressive pick, jumping a bubble screen to intercept Rosen.
NOTES ON THE NEWCOMERS
Tight end Devin Asiasi, who transferred from Michigan this offseason, was perhaps the player that looked best physically based on our own expectations heading into Tuesday. We've heard he's weighed in at 280 lbs. and that's also what the Wolverines had him listed at last season, but he moved remarkably well for his size and was probably the most reliable tight end on Day 1. He made the play of the day, in fact, beating Leni Toailoa on a jump ball for a one-handed touchdown in TE vs LB one-on-one battles.
The early entrants had some very good moments. Former five-star defensive end Jaelan Phillips worked with the second unit and shined, beating converted offensive tackle Jake Burton time and time again during the 11-on-11 portion of practice, registering what would have been at least three sacks had tackling been allowed. He looked very explosive off the edge and an argument could be made that he's already surpassed Keisean Lucier-South in that role on the defense. Darnay Holmes had some battles with Howard in one-on-ones and didn't look out of place. He also worked in with the twos alongside Denzel Fisher.
Jimmy Jaggers, often the forgotten man in the group of early entrants that includes two five-star prospects, looked like he might be able to handle some workload this coming season. We've wondered before if he's ultimately destined to make a switch to offensive tackle, especially since he's shown some suspect hands in the past, but he seemed capable of handling the tight end position Tuesday morning, working behind the likes of Austin Roberts, Caleb Wilson and redshirt freshman Jordan Wilson, who caught seemingly everything thrown his way.
Usually freshman quarterbacks look completely disoriented on their first day, but Austin Burton, who moved into his dorm on Sunday, at least showed a nice, fluid throwing motion.
Mique Juarez, the former five-star linebacker who did not play as a true freshman last season after an excused absence from the program, has some way to go to get into football shape, but Kenny Young said Juarez is coming along well.
OL VS. DL BATTLES
In the OL vs. DL one-on-ones, you'd say that the DL probably won the day, even with no bull-rushing allowed. Nose tackle Boss Tagaloa, looking more svelte, showed great explosion, won almost all of his reps and, following practice, was commended by Mora for the work he's done on his body this offseason. On the other side of the ball, the standout OL was left tackle Miller, who used his quickness and length to contain his man.
Probably what most fans are curious about is how Phillips fared. We've heard he came to UCLA for winter quarter weighing about 245 and he's now about 263, and looks very good physically. Like we noted before, he showed some great quickness on the edge and was able to use leverage well to turn the corner, but also dipped inside to get past tackle Lacy.
Perhaps the semi-revelation of the OL vs. DL battles was how well defensive end Marcus Moore did. The redshirt freshman Moore sat out last season with a back injury and this is the first we've really seen him practice, and he was eye-opening in his explosiveness and ability to physically hold his own. From the reps we saw, the tackles he matched up against were unable to contain him. He still looks raw, and defensive line coach Angus McClure spent some time with him on some finer points, but since we weren't expecting much from Moore it was a great surprise.
Another promising redshirt freshman DL was Osa Odighizuwa, who also worked as an end. He's a physical specimen, really well put-together and he showed very good quickness. Ainuu Taua worked as a nose and was too quick most of the time for the center he went against. He too has improved his body, not holding as much bad weight as he did playing fullback last year, and it's evident in his quickness. Defensive Jacob Tuioti-Mariner might have shown the best combination of strength, speed and technique on the edge.
Redshirt sophomore Chigozie Nnoruka won a couple of reps at defensive tackle and he also looks better physically.
Quessenberry was right there with Miller for the best OL in the one-on-ones, showing great lateral quickness and balance in containing his rusher. Lacy had a few good moments, but looked a bit tentative his first day at tackle and going up against some challenging opponents. Offensive guard Toran looks bigger and thicker physically, and he won most of his reps, showing good strength and balance. James has moved inside and looks far more comfortable there, having some good battles against Tagaloa, a few ending in a stalemate. Guard Josh Wariboko-Alali was about even in win/loss on his reps, getting beat a couple of times but then moving his feet well to stay in front of his pass rusher. Redshirt freshmen Paco Perez and Mike Alves lost a couple of reps, but didn't look horrible doing it, showing some promise. Alves also earned some praise from Mora in his post-practice presser.
Cameron Griffin is no longer with the program, Mora said, as the former fullback and linebacker opted for a medical retirement. ... Poasi Moala had offseason hip surgery and worked out with trainers throughout practice, and Mora said he should be ready for fall camp. ... The position switch of Dymond Lee from quarterback to receiver is a permanent one, Mora said. ... Running back Jalen Starks had a club wrapped around his right hand but participated fully. ... J.J. Molson made four of four field-goal attempts, including a 40-yarder, while Andrew Strauch hit two of his four. ... Stefan Flintoft and Austin Kent split first-team reps at punter. ... Defensive lineman Nick Terry got nicked up and was treated by training staff, riding the bike toward the end of practice. ... From what we could gather, there weren't any current recruits in attendance, as you might expect given the 7 a.m. start time, but incoming freshman teammates Moses Robinson-Carr and Morrell Osling made the trek from Lancaster, Calif., to watch the action. ... The Bruins return to the IM field for the spring's second practice Thursday morning.