Spring is a perfect time for coaches to experiment with different looks and possible position switches, and that was certainly the case Thursday when UCLA resumed action.
The big development of the morning session was the involvement of sophomore Brandon Burton, who starred on special teams last year, with the linebacker group. The former four-star prospect out of Gardena (Calif.) Serra went through individual drills, got a couple reps later in live drills and fared well despite being undersized for the position. With Adarius Pickett and Jaleel Wadood ahead of him on the safety depth chart, it could be that the Bruins are looking to get Burton on the field in any way possible given that he has shown an ability to constantly find the football and make plays. The move at least drew a great remark from linebackers coach Scott White.
"It's a different ballgame out here, Burton," White said as players broke out into their positions for instruction.
The corresponding move was getting wide receiver Mossi Johnson some reps at safety, which meant Johnson having the differentiating jerseys handy. When needed on defense, Johnson draped the white jersey over his blue one. When he was needed on offense, he took off the top layer. At one point, Johnson ditched the jerseys altogether, going through a couple plays with just his grey undershirt. The coaches have talked in the past about wanting to get him more involved.
Giovanni Gentosi, after the additions of freshmen Jordan Wilson and Jimmy Jaggers into the mix, has been getting the first-team reps at fullback/H-back, and has been as solid there as he was at tight end last season. Jalen Starks would appear to be another option at that spot, but he was off to the side Thursday with his right hand wrapped. The continued ascension of tight end Caleb Wilson, who had the best day catching the football of any player Thursday, has probably given the offensive staff some confidence in utilizing Gentosi in other ways.
From a personnel standpoint, it's also worth mentioning that the competition for backup quarterback appears to be wide open. After Devon Modster took the second-team reps in the opening practice Tuesday, fellow redshirt freshman Matt Lynch got the nod Thursday. We'd say both have taken some strides this offseason, with Lynch looking like he's cleaned up his delivery a bit.
Najee Toran would seem to be the team's backup center since he took some first-team reps when Scott Quessenberry was given a breather. Elsewhere on the offensive line, Andre James got some reps at right tackle, a position he played last season when Kolton Miller suffered a broken ankle.
WR VS. DB BATTLES
Howard, who looks more assertive this spring, had the play of the day, reaching out with his right hand to pull down a pass while having the awareness to drag his toe for a completion down the sideline. The sophomore followed that up with a nice diving reception, again getting his knee down for what would have been a first-down completion in a real-game scenario.
Lasley, meanwhile, appears to be UCLA's best big-play threat. He schooled freshman Darnay Holmes with a fake post route to get past him and haul in a touchdown on a beautifully thrown ball by Josh Rosen, who again looked like his normal self and made a number of fantastic passes.
Holmes, despite struggling some against Lasley, was one of the more impressive defensive backs. On one of the first plays of the one-on-one session, Holmes jumped a comeback route by Adewale Omotosho for an easy interception that would have gone for six. Holmes worked in with the first-unit defense at nickel and we could see that being a role might thrive in this season, especially if Johnny Johnson is able to stay healthy and lock down the corner spot opposite of Nathan Meadors.
Another cornerback that had a fine day was Colin Samuel, the former four-star prospect out of Long Beach (Calif.) Poly. He has always looked the part, fitting the prototypical body type that assistant coach Demetrice Martin covets, but hasn't been able to put it together on the field. Maybe he has finally turned the proverbial corner. Samuel reacted well on a pass up the middle to deflect it away from Mossi Johnson and later intercepted a ball intended for Stephen Johnson.
• Devin Asiasi again stood out as a player that could help the offense, but it's looking like he'll have to wait until 2018. Sources are saying that it's extremely unlikely that Asiasi wins his appeal to be immediately eligible this season following his transfer from Michigan.
• For the second straight practice, there was no sign of offensive lineman Alex Akingbulu, who is listed on the roster and, according to the school directory, is an enrolled student.
• Wide receiver Alex Van Dyke bounced back from a rough first practice to having a good session Thursday, making a very good catch on a deep ball over Johnny Johnson.
• Breland Brandt got some time at SAM linebacker and it would not surprise us to see him get some time at edge rusher later this spring. Mique Juarez lined up alongside Kenny Young and Josh Woods with the first-unit defense and, though he's got some work to do to get back into shape, he showed some promising signs in zone coverage. At the very least, including him with the first group could provide a boost in confidence.
• Interior defensive linemen Matt Dickerson and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner each had good days in both drills and team scenarios. Dickerson had a couple phantom sacks and Tuioti-Mariner made a nice bat down in 11-on-11.
• There was a new one-on-one shuttle race that served as the team's conditioning midway through practice. Chigozie Nnoruka beat every offensive lineman he faced.
• Lasley, Andrews, Holmes and Damian Alloway were the designated punt returners during special teams.
• J.J. Molson made three of his four field-goal attempts, while Andrew Strauch and Crawford Pierson were each sank two of their four tries.
• Concord (Calif.) Clayton Valley three-star offensive tackle Brandon Mello and Monrovia (Calif.) cornerback Mike Washington were two recruits in attendance. Saturday's practice should draw a major recruit presence given that the annual Tom Lemming photo shoot is taking place on campus.