Mique Juarez

Ten Takeaways From UCLA Spring Practice

May 1 -- We offer 10 takeaways from UCLA spring practice, including things that stood out, promising signs with the new offensive scheme and some remaining question marks heading into summer workouts...

1. NO NEED TO WORRY ABOUT JOSH ROSEN’S THROWING SHOULDER

Josh Rosen and his surgically repaired right shoulder looked normal. The junior quarterback had no trouble airing the ball down field, seemed to have the same amount of zip on his throws that he did before suffering the shoulder injury midway through the 2016 season, and told the media Saturday he knows a lot more about his physical capabilities now that he has recovered fully. Rosen was inconsistent throughout the month of practices, but from a health standpoint, UCLA couldn't have asked for anything better.

2. JEDD FISCH’S OFFENSE LOOKS LIKE AN UPGRADE

Though both the Blue and White teams ran rather basic plays Saturday during the spring game at Drake Stadium, we saw a lot of variety from UCLA’s new offense throughout the month of practices. For the most part, Jedd Fisch has put players in positions to succeed rather than try to fit them to a specific system, which is where Kennedy Polamalu went wrong last year. The run game isn’t quite there yet, but with the use of stretch plays, misdirection and counter looks, it seems like Fisch won’t be stubborn in his approach.

3. UCLA COULD REALLY USE TRANSFER DEVIN ASIASI THIS YEAR

Yes, the tight end spot is much deeper than it was at this point last year, especially with the emergence of former USC walk-on Caleb Wilson as a reliable target, but the Bruins could really use Michigan transfer Devin Asiasi in their attack this season. Asiasi was very impressive all spring, showing soft hands, the ability to get open and willingness to block. It’s not like UCLA is short on options, with the aforementioned Wilson, along with Austin Roberts, Jordan Wilson, Jimmy Jaggers and Moses Robinson-Carr in the group, but Asiasi could already be considered one of this team’s better offensive players. The coaches are trying, but it’s very unlikely that the former Concord (Calif.) De La Salle star will be immediately eligible.

4. WALK-ON STEFAN FLINTOFT HAS CLEAR EDGE IN PUNTER COMPETITION

Only Colorado punted more than UCLA among Pac-12 teams last season, so it’s an important job on this team, particularly since the offense, even if it’s been upgraded from 2016, could experience some bumps along the road. Walk-on Stefan Flintoft made the most of his first-team reps throughout spring and, though no starter has been named, has held off Austin Kent. It’s certainly a competition that will be worth monitoring in fall camp heading into the season.

5. HANK FRALEY HAS BROUGHT COMPOSURE TO THE OFFENSIVE LINE

There was a noticeable difference in offensive line drills from this spring to those in the past, and that’s something the group really embraced. Whereas former position coach Adrian Klemm took more of a get-in-your-face approach, new OL coach Hank Fraley has been touted as more of a teacher. For a group that struggled as mightily as this one did last season, the change could be a big one as the likes of Kolton Miller (RT to LT), Andre James (RT to LG) and Kenny Lacy (LG to RT) adjust to new roles.

Andre James with Hank Fraley (Blair Angulo)

6. BATTLE FOR BACKUP QUARTERBACK MUCH CLOSER THAN EXPECTED

We aren’t allowed to view practices during the season, so we never got a look at Devon Modster and Matt Lynch while they redshirted last year. The battle for No. 3 behind Rosen and Mike Fafaul last fall camp wasn’t close, with Modster clearly looking like the better prospect and more refined passer. That gap has closed considerably, though, with Lynch clearly having worked on his mechanics and throwing the football with more assertiveness. Modster still got most of the second-team reps and would likely be better suited to see game action, but Lynch has definite upside as a playmaker outside the pocket but also is developing as a passer.

7. MIQUE JUAREZ SHOWED IMPROVEMENT FROM WEEK TO WEEK

The expectations for outside linebacker Mique Juarez were fairly low heading into spring practice. Having missed his true freshman season after being excused from fall camp, the redshirt freshman returned to the field this spring out of shape yet, by the end of the month, had dropped 10 lbs. and looked more up to speed. Linebackers coach Scott White told reporters he’s optimistic that Juarez will have a productive summer with another 15 lbs. to shed and expects the former five-star prospect to contribute in the fall. That’s certainly a promising sign.

Mique Juarez

8. THE FIVE-STAR FRESHMEN LIVED UP TO THE HYPE

Defensive end Jaelan Phillips and cornerback Darnay Holmes were each rated No. 1 at their respective positions in the 2017 class, and they definitely backed up those rankings this spring. Phillips worked in with the first-unit defense and looked like a third-year player out there, quickly assimilating to the razor position that was occupied by first-rounder Takkarist McKinley. Holmes, meanwhile, was stellar at nickel, has the ability to cover one on one and looks like UCLA’s top returner on special teams.

9. DESPITE LOSING PLAYMAKERS, DEFENSE SHOWED PROMISE

The defensive unit was obviously not the one fans worried about this spring, but after losing starters McKinley, Fabian Moreau, Jayon Brown, Eddie Vanderdoes and Randall Goforth, there were some notable voids to fill. Based on what we saw throughout practices, there might not be too much of a drop off this year. Kenny Young and Josh Woods are playing with a lot of confidence in the middle of the defense, the line is as deep as it’s been since Jim Mora took the helm, and the secondary has plenty of playmaking ability with Adarius Pickett and Jaleel Wadood flying to the football.

10. STILL WAIT-AND-SEE MODE WITH OFFENSIVE LINE 

While Fraley has brought change to the offensive line group, it still remains to be seen if that will be the difference. UCLA really struggled to get any sort of push up front last season, but getting James to left guard could help that cause. Najee Toran had a good spring as a run blocker, Miller more than held his own protecting Rosen’s blind side, and Lacy had some solid moments, too, though he left Saturday’s game after getting rolled up on. The lack of depth continues to be a big question mark heading into the summer, so it should be interesting to see if the Bruins are able to land any help through the transfer market.


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