UCLA had another positive practice Wednesday morning, with quarterback Josh Rosen and the offense making more strides and the defense having some big moments.
The practice included quite a few team periods in which the offense was a bit more effective in making plays. It didn’t necessarily move the chains down the field consistently, but the practice was highlighted by some standout individual plays.
The guy making perhaps the most plays on the day was Rosen. It very well might have been his best practice of spring, and one of the best we’ve seen of him in a while. He threw crisp, tight passes with some very good accuracy while taking a step forward in timing and touch. One of the best plays of the day came in the first 11-on-11 period when Rosen dropped in a 25-yard gain to Darren Andrews on a deep fade along the sideline in the soft spot of the defense’s zone. It set the tone for the type of day Rosen would have, and he didn’t let down throughout the morning. One of the best passes on the day was a perfectly thrown post to Jordan Lasley in the endzone during the redzone team period that Lasley should have caught but cornerback Nathan Meadors did just enough to disrupt Lasley’s concentration. In team, 7-on7 and one-on-ones, Rosen was throwing with power and accuracy, and using some nice touch when it warranted. Rosen was particularly good on slants today, really threading needles with nicely thrown darts.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Devon Modster took most of the reps with the 2s, and had a relatively good day. He also looks more comfortable with the timing of the passing game, and had enough on his throws so that he didn’t have to force anything to make a completion. He was a bit inconsistent throwing down the field, which he’s been a bit this spring, however.
Among the receivers, there was the usual standout performances from Andrews, Lasley and tight end Caleb Wilson. Those three consistently get open the most among the receivers. Wilson was the featured pass-catcher on a couple of drives, and was the recipient of a 17-yard gain on a Rosen flea flicker. He followed that up in redzone with a pretty route and catch through a middle seam against linebacker Kenny Young for a touchdown. It’s amazing that UCLA’s most consistent receiver right now is a former USC walk-on.
Senior receiver Alex Van Dyke has had been having a quietly good spring so far. The knock on him has been some questionable hands, and he’s not a natural pass catcher. Sometimes stretching for a catch makes it tough for him. But in the last few practices, and on Wednesday, he’s been far more reliable. He’s such a big body that he can easily shield out defenders and create a nice catch window, and that’s been evident recently.
We said in the halfway practice review that we were a bit disappointed that some of the younger wide receivers hadn’t yet stepped up to this point, but redshirt freshman Adewale Omotosho certainly did Wednesday. In one-on-ones in particular, he made a number of plays that really stood out; on one high fade into the back of the endzone he skied over his defender and snatched it. We know that Omotosho is supposed to have an incredible vertical and he certainly showed it there. He also had to stretch for one out route and made a great catch with it. Omotosho is still raw, but there is some considerable upside there with his athleticism.
Redshirt freshman Demetric Felton had a few good moments, particulary in one-on-ones, when he used his quickness to get separation from his defender and showed some solid pass-catching skills.
Tight end Devin Asiasi had his requisite moments in practice, like he has this entire spring. He made a great one-handed catch – with his left hand – in 7-on-7 in the corner of the endzone, and was consistently catching the ball all over the field.
The running game didn’t necessarily have a big day, but you wouldn’t say it was a step backward either. It seemed they worked the inside zone more Wednesday rather than the stretch type of plays that have been the bread-and-butter of spring so far. And there was some success up the middle, especially with tailback/fullback Jalen Starks carrying the ball. If you remember, Jim Mora recently said he’d like to get Starks down to 260 pounds, so right now he’s probably 270ish, and that’s just a whole lot of human running at you. On one run, Starks slipped outside for some running room and it looked like 190-pound cornerback Keyon Riley wanted no part of him. The thing about Starks is that he’s going to get you 2 to 6 positive yards just about every time, rather than trying to bounce around looking for holes, and there’s a lot to be said for that after last season’s production from the running backs. Even though Sotonye Jamabo still was the first on the field with the 1s, Starks probably got the most reps on the day, and there were a number of runs between the tackles that he had would-be tacklers peeling off him as he grinded out five to eight yards.
UCLA’s running game for many years has been pretty one-dimensional, but Jedd Fisch’s offense includes just about every type of running play in any playbook – including the seldom-seen (for UCLA) counter or misdirection and the almost-never-seen pitch. It’s pretty fun to see Starks build up some steam, collect a pitch and hit a hole hard. There’s also a very developed passing game for the running backs, that includes the same type of swing passes that we saw in Noel Mazzone’s offense, but also quick, against-the-grain dump-offs in which the running back is the first option.
Overall, everything we’ve seen of FIsch’s offense has been, well, pretty. That’s probably the best way to describe it.
One note on pass protection in team drills: While we’ve discussed how the offensive line has struggled a bit this spring so far, they generally have provided the quarterbacks a decent amount of time to make a play, and did so Wednesday.
The OL/DL one-on-ones were, as always, enlightening. On the offensive side, Kolton Miller had probably the most productive result, stoning Jacob Tuioti-Mariner a couple of times. Andre James probably lost a couple more reps than he had other practices recently, but he also looked good, again, at tackle. On defense, perhaps the standout was Rick Wade. Wade is really a big boy, taller than Jaelan Phillips, and that means he must be at least 6-6, and he looks to be about 275. This sounds creepy, but we saw Wade after practice a few days ago without his shirt off and he looked like a statue of a Greek God. He consistently beat Kenny Lacy around the edge and inside in one-on-ones Wade had a really nice pop on running back Nate Starks on one stretch.
The worry continues to be finding some consistent offensive line play after Miller, James, and center Scott Quessenberry. Lacy hasn’t stepped up and improved in the two and half weeks of spring practice. Najee Toran has been the next-best guy and has probably secured himself a starting spot. He didn't participate in one-on-ones, working as a center in 7-on-7s since it appears he'd be the back-up center behind Quessenberry. And there hasn’t been a guy among the younger OLs who has really flashed. Josh Wariboko-Alali is still struggling. Mike Alves actually had a few good reps today at right tackle and might be emerging as the best among the young OLs.
Defensive end Keisean Lucier-South had one of his better practices, especially in team when he registered a couple of virtual sacks. In one-on-ones he tends to always take the edge and never dip inside, which makes it easy for the blocker to just push him away.
The UCLA defense generally had a good day Wednesday, with the back seven having some moments, not only in team drills but in the Oklahoma drill, that pits a running back and a blocker against one defender. Middle linebacker Kenny Young looked very good in Oklahoma, and made a number of plays, particular against the run, on both inside and outside runs, in team. Weakside linebacker Josh Woods violently blew up a rep in Oklahoma against tight end Jordan Wilson, throwing Wilson to the ground. Sophomore middle linebacker Lokeni Toailoa also had a very good day, in both Oklahoma and team, making a number of plays in which he shed would-be blockers with ease. He got a good amount of praise from linebackers coach Scott White during the practice.
Linebacker Mique Juarez struggled in the Oklahoma drill, getting run over or pushed back by Jalen Starks on a couple of reps. He rebounded in team, though, making a few tackles for no gain on stretch runs.
Lokeni Toailoa, the redshirt freshman linebacker, is registering a couple of nice plays per practice, too, and he got a virtual sack in team Wednesday.
Converted safety Brandon Burton made some plays at linebacker, looking very quick in jumping the slip route of Devin Asiasi to bat down the pass.
Among the DBs, there were a number of standouts. We’d probably have to go with Adarius Pickett as the DB of the day, though. He had a strip of the ball in Oklahoma, and a nice pick in team, and is fast becoming one of the best all-around players on the roster.
Cornerback Denzel Fisher had another good practice, with some good one-on-one reps and then also blowing up a couple of running plays in team. He’s stepped up and taken ahold of the starting cornerback spot, but Keyon Riley and Colin Samuel have also had good springs so far. The three of them, along with veteran starter Nathan Meadors and true freshman Darnay Holmes, have made it very difficult on the receivers to get any separation in one-on-ones. Perhaps the biggest surprise has been how good Samuel has been so far this spring, looking very quick for his size in staying with his man and very physical.
Holmes took quite a few more reps at nickel than cornerback Wednesday, and made some pretty athletic plays. Perhaps the most athletic was the last play of practice in which Holmes blocked a field goal attempt. The snap was high and the hold was late but Holmes burst through the middle to get a hand on it.
Converted receiver Mossi Johnson continues to shine at safety, showing some great instincts on break-ups in one-on-ones.
Safety Jaleel Wadood worked with the 2s exclusively, perhaps as a disciplinary measure after getting kicked out of practice Monday for what appeared to be targeting. There were probably a few other plays from that practice that were more extreme than Wadood's, though. William Lockett took most of the reps with the 1s as a result.
Kicker J.J. Molson missed a 40-yard field goal that got caught up in the wind, and was the victim of the bad snap and late hold on the Holmes block. Andrew Strauch had it easier, making a 27-yarder
One note on the prospects at practice: 2017 committed OL Zack Sweeney showed up at practice in a red 49ers jersey and then received some ribbing from the UCLA staff. He later was seen in a black and blue UCLA hoodie.
Prospects at Practice:
The coaching staff was giving Hawkins quite a bit of attention.