UCLA Coach Jim Mora Talks Spring Game Plans

Apr. 20 -- UCLA head coach Jim Mora spoke to reporters Thursday about wanting to play an actual spring game next week, how the roster would be split, the progress of the run game, and more...

Opening statement 

I sound like a broken record coming over here, but it was another really good practice. The amount of work we’re able to get done, the situations we’re able to put them through, the way they compete, and I keep saying ‘compete and cooperate’ – by that I mean: There’s great competition, but there’s nothing petty. There are not scuffles or dust-ups, there’s not negative language, and yet it’s very competitive. And I think that just bodes itself well for creating a great team environment. So that, to me, has been encouraging. I’m really impressed with the progress that the offense is making. It doesn’t show up on every single play, but everything from the verbiage – learning how to call a play and put it together sequentially in a way it makes sense, to getting to the line of scrimmage and getting set; we haven’t had a lot of formation errors, we haven’t had a lot of false starts or dropped snaps. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but there’s just a lot of encouraging things that you see when you look at the film, or when you watch practice, that maybe don’t show up when you’re out here just as an observer. So I think our run games is improving, I think our scheme is good – the things that we’re doing  – and then we’ve got good backs. They’re all right there together. I think Bolu and Soso, and I think Nate Starks is doing a tremendous job, and Brandon (Stephens), and then putting Jalen Starks – kind of having him play fullback and halfback – it’s a really good group. And I don’t want to leave out Khalil Muhammad. So great competition there. And then they’re meshed with the offensive line. We’re asking our receivers to be more involved in blocking, and they’re accepting that challenge. So a lot of good things. And then defensively, we’re settling into a situation where guys have a more complete understanding of not only their position, but the scheme. When you can understand more than just what you’re supposed to do and how you fit in the scheme, then you’re typically going to be a more productive player and a more productive defense. So just a lot of good things happening right now. We’ve got five practices left, but we’ve got Saturday, three next week and then the spring game. 

On having a spring game

Our objective is to come out here for the spring game and make it an actual game. That doesn’t mean all the special teams will be live, but we’d like to think that if we can stay healthy the way we have, that we’re able to put together two squads and have a blue-vs.white actual game on Drake – which I think a lot of people want to see, and I’d like to see us be able to accomplish. 

On whether the team is equipped to play a spring game safely and without injury

I do at this point, but it could change. And the reason I do is because I see them understanding how to practice with a level of physicality without cheap shots. The defensive backs understand that they’re not going to blow a receiver up just to blow him up, you know. They know how to practice. That doesn’t mean it’s always perfect – we have moments where we have to settle them down and we have to reign them back in. But they know how to practice, so I think that at this point, I can tell you that we are going to have a real spring game. But it could change. 

On the team’s current injury report

Great. 

On whether Boss Tagaloa is a little banged up

A little, but nothing that I know that we have to worry about. I didn’t have anyone to come over and tell me that he was out. I mean, we took him out for a little bit. But we’ve had 10 practices – 10 hard practices, nine in pads. A lot of physical work – not always live, obviously – but still physical. And they’ve been long practices, and they’ve been productive practices. So guys are going to be a little bit nicked. But I’ve been impressed with the way guys have pushed through; Austin Roberts getting back out there and doing some work today. I just see guys that are really trying to push through a little bit of pain and get better. 

On why the team is doing 11-on-11 on two practice fields this year

We have more players available to us; we’re putting in a new offense – entirely new verbiage. There’s really zero carry-over in terms of the language that we use to describe a formation, a play, or even a personnel group. So it gives us more opportunities to get reps. And the way you get better at football, one of the ways you get better, is you run plays. So we want to be able to run plays. We don’t do it every day – we didn’t do it yesterday, we did it some today – it depends on the period, it depends on the practice plan. But it just gives guys more opportunities to get out there and run football plays. 

On what makes Adarius Pickett such a playmaker 

It’s a great question. I think it’s a little bit of an intangible. First of all, I think he’s very smart. I think that he understands – as I was talking about earlier: more than just his job, but (also) the concept of the defense. And maybe where the ball is going to be thrown. I think he studies the game. And then there are just certain guys that have a knack. One of the ways that you make plays is: You go hard all the time. And that’s why you get tips, or you get overthrows, is because you break and then you look, rather than look to see what’s happening and then break. And so you buy yourself that half-second step, or that half-step, that it takes to make a play. And I think Pick is one of those guys. He’s been one of those guys since he’s been here. He’s becoming a really, really good football player, a really good safety. 

On how he will break up the teams for the spring showcase scrimmage

I’m still working through that. You know, we’ve talked about having a draft. What we’ll probably do is sit down as a staff Monday or Tuesday, see where we are in terms of guys being nicked, who’s unavailable, and try to split it up so it’s even. I don’t want it to be a bloodbath, I want it to be competitive. We can have a draft, but I don’t know that that’s the most productive thing to do. So I think what we’ll probably do – and once again, this is open to change – is split the teams as evenly as we can so that it can be competitive. 

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