UCLA Coach Jim Mora Pleased With Run Game Progress

Apr. 17 -- UCLA head coach Jim Mora spoke about the run game's progress, the versatility of Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and the physicality he's seen from the team this spring...

Opening statement

Good day of work, just a ton of stuff getting done; a lot of guys starting to make moves. We’re seeing some of the younger guys starting to get it and really accelerate – guys like Audie (Omotosho) coming on strong, (Demetric) Felton coming on strong, Josh Wilson [sic] coming on strong, Michael Alves coming on strong, Colin Samuel coming on strong. You know, guys are just starting to get it, they’re starting to mature, they’re starting to figure it out. And just the level of concentration and competitiveness, it’s just helping them grow. So that’s exciting to see. So like I said, another great day of situational work – competitive, cooperative, great attitude, great work ethic. Just encouraging all around. 

On how the running game is progressing

Outstanding. Today is the best we’ve run it. We ran it well Saturday, we ran it well today. Now that’s a double-edged sword, because obviously there’s some things that we’ve gotta fix on defense, but that’s football. And every day you come out here, you’re trying to get better at something, you work on something. Our run game is really coming along. 

On what is sparking the improvement in the run game

I’m seeing a better understanding of how we’re blocking, angles, schemes, timing, backs having a better understanding of where the holes is going to open up and when, aiming points, all of those things. And then backs being more decisive in hitting it downhill. When you’re running an inside, outside zone running scheme, you’re a one cut and downhill running team. We’re doing a nice job of that. 

On Devon Modster taking a lot of the backup QB reps

Nope.

It’s still split between Modster and Matt Lynch?

Absolutely.

On how the backup QB competition between Modster and Lynch is shaking out

They’re both doing a really good job. Devon’s done some excellent things, and Matt’s done some excellent things. I think that Austin (Burton) is going to be a very good player, but he’s still very young – it looks like he’s 12 years old – but he’s got a really nice throwing motion, he’s got a really nice stroke. But right now, Devon and Matt are getting almost equal reps with the 2s, and they’re both doing a really good job. 

On whether you would want someone to step up and seize the backup QB spot in spring

It depends. If they’re both progressing, no. If they’re both stalled, then you’d like to see somebody or both accelerate. What I see is two guys who are getting better every practice. So I’m just encouraged by the way both of those guys are coming along. 

On having a lot of padded practice but still maintaining safety-first football

(We’re doing) good. Every once in a while, a guy goes on the ground, but we really have three tempos: we have a “tag-off” tempo, we have a “thud” tempo – which is physical, but trying to keep guys off the ground – and then “full go.” The tag-offs are tag-offs, sometimes in thud, your goal is to keep guys off the ground, (but) sometimes guys go on the ground. And then in live, it’s live. So I think they’re really getting it. I think to be a good football team, you have to be able to practice in tag-off and thud and still be physical, still be competitive – and that’s hard to do. They’re competitors and they’re prideful. But I think over the course of our time here, five years, these guys really have an understanding of what we’re asking of in terms of the tempo in practice. So I love the cooperation I’m seeing. 

Impressions on Jacob Tuioti-Mariner thus far in spring camp

He’s versatile. He can play really three of the four spots. We probably wouldn’t want to put him at nose tackle. A maturity, an element of leadership, the guys respect him. He’s one of those guys that you want your young guys to watch, because he understands what great work ethic is, what great attitude is. He’s a guy that understands tempo, what we’re looking for. A guy that knows how to compete hard, but still will be cooperative with his teammates so guys aren’t getting hurt. He’s just a very dependable, reliable, consistent performer for us. 

On Tuioti-Mariner’s versatility 

I think it’s helped us, and it’s helped him. But I think it’s risky at times because you never want a guy that’s as good as him to be treated as a jack of all trades. And I think he’s moved through that. I think there was a point last year when he became a little bit frustrated that we were moving him around – it was before season started. It was in camp, I remember (Tuioti-Mariner) expressed it to me: ‘I would like to have a spot that I can kind of own.’ But I think he realizes that his value to the team, and really his value when he moves to the next level, is his ability to be versatile and be productive at really a few different spots. 

On Jalen Starks’ long runs during Monday’s practice

Yeah, I don’t think that people are real anxious to tackle him when he’s in the open field. He’s a big feller and he runs hard and he runs with good pad level. You know I talked about this last week: Our desire to move him back to a pure running back. We’ve gone into spring thinking he’d be a fullback, but his running skills are darn good. He gives us the big back that can run the ball in the open field. So I’ve been really impressed with him.

On whether Jalen Starks has picked up weight this offseason

He’s a little bit bigger right now. He was working through the hand injury, so he wasn’t able to do everything towards the end of our winter program. He’s a guy that has a tendency to gain weight quickly. I’m really confident when we come back for fall that he’ll be 250, 255 pounds – which is probably right where you want him. Because he moves well – he’s a smooth, explosive guy. You don’t really want to hit him high, I know that.

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