Jim Mora After Saturday's UCLA Practice

Apr. 15 -- UCLA coach Jim Mora talked after Saturday's practice about the continued improvement of the offense, some of the younger players that are flashing, the possibility of some grad transfers, and more...

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Opening statement

Good practice. Tons of situational work, red zone, we got backed up, we had four-minute, two-minute (drills), we did some middle-of-the-field work, got punt, field goal, field goal block. Just a lot of great situations. We had officials out here, and it was just a really good day. So it was the end to a really good week – we had four excellent days. Monday was probably not a great practice, but I was really proud with the way they responded to that and put three good ones together on Wednesday, Thursday and today. So I think we made a lot of progress as a team. I think the progress offensively was probably evident if you watched it – they’re starting to get it. And that’s obviously our objective. They’ve just got to keep getting better. I’m just excited about their attitude, their work ethic, they way they’re competing, the way they’re cooperating with each other, and the work we’re getting done and the progress we’re making. So good day, good week. 

On whether it matters if the defense is ahead of the offense at this point

What matters is progress at the end of the day. On both sides of the ball, really, in all three phases, you want to see progress. It’s typical for an offense – even an experienced offense – to be a little bit behind initially when you go into spring ball or into a training camp situation, just because of the timing of things. But what we saw this week, especially in the last three practices, was our offense taking a big step forward in their execution, in their understanding of what they’re supposed to do, in the fundamentals of the position, and then in their production on the field. So I don’t know who’s ahead and who’s behind. In one part of practice today, the offense was ahead of the defense, and in another the defense was ahead of the offense. 

To me, it’s just: Are we making progress? Are we moving in the right direction? And it’s very evident to me after seven practices that we are. So that’s exciting. 

On the ‘one percent better every day’ mantra

Yeah, I know it. It’s a phrase that we’re all using. We just come out here as an individual and try to get one percent better than we were the day before, and if we can all do that collectively, then we are going to make progress as a team. 

On where the mantra came from

We started it, yeah. We started it. 

On Eldridge Massington stepping up the last two practices

I agree with you, yeah. I thought that Thursday night he was really a standout, and then today. It looks like he’s playing with a lot of confidence. He looks like he’s healthy. I think he’s doing a really great job of taking care of his body. I think one of his problems he’s had in the past has been that his knees get sore. Eldridge is one of those young men who has a tendency to overtrain. He would leave the practice field and then go out and run on the track. And it was really counterproductive to his development. And I think he’s learned, and he’s doing a really good job of keeping himself on the right track in terms of health. And then, therefore, he’s more productive on the field and his confidence is growing. And as his confidence grows, the quarterback’s confidence grows in him, and you just see a great synergy. 

On whether there are some plays that Jedd Fisch has specifically designed to maximize Eldridge’s talents

Not yet, but he will. Right now, it’s putting plays in, running plays, learning concepts. But I think that you’re right, there’s plays that AVD and El are going to excel at – especially in the red zone, when you put it up high, when you put it on the back shoulder and they can use their body to shield a guy from defending it. You saw that on Thursday, that last play (of practice, when Eldridge caught a back-shoulder TD) and you saw it today a little bit. It’s not necessarily by design yet, but it’s certainly part of the process of working them into positions that accentuate their abilities. 

On Dechaun Holiday’s injury status

He had a shoulder subluxation. He’ll miss the rest of spring; well, I don’t know that he’ll miss the rest of spring – he’ll miss the next week. He’s got some rehab to do. But hopefully he’ll be ready to roll for August camp, if not before that. Because he’s really done a nice job, he’s made a lot of progress. So we want to keep him on track. 

On Bolu being banged up in practice today

He just got a little stinger in his neck. He’s fine. He’s walking off. Oh, that’s not him, that’s Theo. It’s good when you compare Theo to Bolu – it’s good for Theo, I don’t know if it’s good for Bolu. But I think (Bolu) should be fine. 

On whether Devin Asiasi has a chance to play this year 

At this point in time, it doesn’t look promising. But uncle Angus, he’s working it. So we’re not going to concede yet; we’re going to look for an opportunity to get him eligible. But there are certain rules that are pretty stringent, so. 

On certain guys that have flashed in the first couple weeks that he hasn’t mentioned yet during media sessions

I’ll tell you who’s flashed. And I hate doing this, because I inevitably forget somebody. But I’ll talk more about young guys. 

Jordan Wilson, to me, has done some really good things through seven practices. 

Marcus Moore has a speed and a burst and an acceleration that you like. I need to make sure that he can get through these next eight practices healthy, and continue to progress. And if he does, I don’t know exactly what his role will be on defense, but I think that he certainly has the technique, the speed, the quickness, the mentality, the toughness to even maybe help us on special teams. You like to have a big, fast guy like that running down on kickoffs, or protecting on punts, or doing something like that. 

I think Demetric Felton keeps getting better and better – and I’m not just basing that on that last play he made (in practice), I see him getting better and better; I think Audie (Omotosho) is getting better and better. 

Jalen Starks, you know, we had him at fullback; we’re putting him back at halfback some, and then at fullback. You know, we think we might have an opportunity to add a fullback to our team here after spring, and if that’s the case, then we’d like to let Jalen play running back. Even though he’s two-hundred-and-a-lot of pounds, he’s more suited to be a running back. 

I think that Mike Alves is doing some good things, I think that Paco (Perez) is doing some good things. Once again, I’m talking more about the young guys. I don’t want to forget about anyone. 

Let’s start on the other side of the ball: Osa (Odighizuwa) is doing outstanding. I mean you talk about a strong, powerful young man; he’s dynamic. 

Chigozie (Nnoruka) has done a really good job. I think Nick Terry – now, he’s an older guy, but he’s young to the program. I think our defensive line has a chance to be really good, and I like the guys inside. You know, they’re young, and they’ve got work to do, but when you talk about Boss (Tagaloa) and you talk about Matt Dickerson, and we move JTM in there sometimes, and then Osa and ‘Gozie and Nick Terry and the guys like Martin Anderson that we are going to add, and Greg Rodgers, it’s a pretty dynamic group. So that’s exciting.

Jaelan Phillips obviously doing good things, Darnay (Holmes) is doing some good things. I think that Denzel Fisher has taken a step up. I’ve really been impressed with the work that Khrys Barnes has done, and the progress that he’s made. Dechaun Holiday was (making progress), but now he’s set back a little bit. Even Brandon Burton – now, he got a little stinger today so he had to sit out part of practice – but moving him to linebacker, he’s made progress. Having Breland (Brandt) out there, he’s making progress. 

Right now, I’m excited about Mossi (Johnson) in the secondary. So, right now, I told you guys ‘we’ll see where he’ll go,’ and I’m liking him on defense right now. He does some good things. 

And then J.J. Molson, J.J. is doing a nice job. And then Austin (Kent) and Stefan Flintoft are showing more consistency. 

On whether there could be a graduate transfer coming in at fullback

I was talking about potentially a grad transfer, and a pretty dynamic walk-on-type player as well. 

On still being in the market for other potential graduate transfers

Yeah, we’re in pretty good shape with guys – I’m not allowed to name them yet, but you know our priority is obviously offensive line if we could add two guys there. We are in really good shape with a couple guys, and that would help us, and then potentially fullback. I thought maybe linebacker might be a position, but I think Brandon Burton is stepping up, I think Breland Brandt is stepping up, I think Dechaun is stepping up. And then I think Xan Cuevas, who was a walk-on quarterback and who’s now playing linebacker – what a deal, going from quarterback to linebacker. He’s giving us something too.

On what he thinks of the NCAA approving the early signing period 

I don’t have any thoughts on that yet; I haven’t had a chance to really think about it. My focus, when that came out yesterday, was just on today’s practice. I just haven’t sat down and thought about how it will affect us. Demitri and our compliance people and our recruiting office, they’re doing a really good job of coming up with some plans as we move toward what it’s going to look like. 

For me right now, I just need to concentrate on this team. I can’t affect change. I’m going to adjust to it, we’re going to adjust to it. So I haven’t really given it much thought yet. 

On not having two-a-days anymore

That’s OK. I think that’s an overrated part of fall camp. I think you can get great work done in a walk-through period. You know, you can get great work done in a three-hour practice, you can get great work done in meetings. We are getting great work done this spring; our players, in the offseason, will have 21 voluntary practices that are player-run – they’re not mandatory. But just from the attitude that I’ve felt from these guys, I would expect participation to be 100 percent or close to it. And that’s on their own. So they’ll make progress there. 

I think sometimes with two-a-days – you know if you went and asked my dad and said they’re not letting you have two a days, (he’d get mad) – but there’s just kind of a new way to do it. He might even give you the ‘playoffs’ thing, I don’t know. 

But just at this point, where football is, I think being safe and being safety-conscious is so important. We want young people encouraged to play football, you know. I want youth teams to be filled with young athletes wanting to be great players. And so we have to create an environment where parents believe that their children can compete and play in this amazing sport that offers so many life lessons, and be safe. So I’m all for it. 

On the staff being able to hire another assistant coach

We’re not able to add that until January. And you know how things change in this business – there will be some available that I didn’t think were. There will be change. So as we go through this, we’ll decide what the position is that makes the most sense for us to have the type of program that we want to have. 

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