Nothing particularly bad happened under cloud-flecked blue skies at Spaulding Field Monday afternoon. But then nothing terribly eventful happened either. Hey, even Beautiful Downtown Bruinville has its fair share of dull days.
After engaging in a spirited, focused, crisply-paced, pad-cracking AM practice, the UCLA Bruin Football team appeared to smash headlong into a collective wall Monday afternoon.
Having seen all but one practice myself. I felt sorry for those on hand who were taking in their first practice session and wondering what all the wild-blue blithering on BRO has been about.
So this is the new look and feel UCLA, eh? And this is the practice report we waited all fricking night for? Hell, sign me up for Fire_DEJA's_Ass_NOW.com.
Meanwhile, every college football team experiences a practice or two during the long hot slog of summer camp when the physical pounding and constant pressure of competition ultimately take its toll and performance suffers. Such a day was Monday, Monday…
As finely conditioned as they are, athletes are not machines and sometimes suffer subpar performances when pushed too far too fast. While college footballers are among our stoutest specimens, the human body, mind and spirit are only geared to absorb so much punishment in a given time span.
Head Coach Karl Dorrell even halted one drill to refocus and rally the ranks. Folks looked a step slow and out of sync on several plays but battled gamely on. Fear not, diehards. As Dorrell said, bodies may be worn, but overall team morale is high.
I'll second that emotion.
On the upbeat side of the slate, there's nothing new on the injury front. Now comes the part where I borrow liberally from Tracy's earlier report, but embellish wherever possible. Bottom line: lots of bodies are MIA, but nothing is too terribly serious.
Center Mike McCloskey again sat out with ice on his shoulder. Tom Cable assured me Mike is fine, but UCLA needs him so the staff is just being cautious.
Derrick Williams sat out again this afternoon.. (His father tells me Derrick tweaked his groin area.)
Kyle Morgan – from what I could see, Morgan didn't participate Monday afternoon.
Chris Horton is progressing nicely, but sat out the afternoon practice.
William Snead dressed, but only did running drills.
Chris Markey sat out the afternoon.
Michael Pitre rested his tight hamstring.
Robert Kibble rested a sore knee and hamstring.
Gavin Ketchum is still out with his shoulder injury but was out of his sling and appears to have surprising mobility based on how he swung his arms around keeping loose on the sidelines.
Bruce Davis sat out the afternoon. He is still participating in only one practice per day until his knee is fully healed.
The afternoon practice consisted of extended periods of individual unit drills, with a smattering of seven-on-sevens, and 11-on-11 action mixed in. The team worked out in shells, so the hitting was still fierce at times, but not quite as intense as the AM practice in full gear. As mentioned earlier, it appeared the spirit was willing, but the flesh was a little weak. With sluggish bods and weary minds, practice was understandably not as sharp.
The general trend throughout camp has been for the defense and offense to each take turns shining. But the defense appeared to have the upper hand most of the afternoon.. This is likely because even when exhausted defenders can simply react to the ball, while offense is based more on timing and precision. Quite often today there was precious little running room and quarterbackss lacked sufficient time to throw when the pocket collapsed.
One word used frequently to describe UCLA's D right about now is quick.. Even with tired legs they look fast and aggressive. The secondary has been especially impressive. The D mixed in some nickel packages today, with safety Eric McNeal seeing extended action.
The two cubs, Brett Lockett and Robert Kibble, have impressed. The other freshman safety, Shawn Oatis, took a few snaps today and certainly passes the eyeball test, looking more like a linebacker in body type. This looks to be as deep secondary as UCLA has fielded in a while. The corners have played uniformly well all camp. Sophomore cornerback Rodney Van continued to flash outstanding anticipation, if not always sparkling hands. But today he snagged a dazzling interception and took it yard.
Freshman linebacker John Hale has certainly turned heads so far this camp and now fellow freshman linebacker Reggie Carter is waking up and making some noise. Korey Bosworth did his onlooking uncle proud today with some nice active play. The kids look like they will be all right and with London Calling and Spencer For Hire they have able mentors and time to learn.
Along the DL the usual suspects and starters almost always play well. Soph defensive end Nikola Dragovic has been a presence in the offensive backfield and tackle Kenneth Lombard is showing he can use his quickness to penetrate and wreak some havoc. Jess Ward looks as if he has good balance and quick feet, but could use some sculpting in the next few years.
Offensively there wasn't much to speak of today. The mental fatigue and sore muscles that typically set in around this time of camp sapped the O of the crispness and precision they have shown at times. Coach Cable acknowledged the obvious after practice.
On the QB front, Ben Olson was Ben Olson, an awesome physical talent showing increasing command, rifling precise darts at times, but misfiring others. Drew Olson had his moments, particularly a beautiful 30-yarder he lofted perfectly to Joe Cowan. But he also fired some worm burners. Patrick Cowan continues to show signs of rebounding from last week's slump. David Koral slings a very nice and often accurate short ball, but struggles on the longer throws, though he made a few decent upfield tosses today. He also tends to bail out on plays and look to scamper too quickly.
But the pass rush was definitely formidable today.
As for the receivers, today was a tough day to gauge them on because the QBs were often rushed or the coverage was so good that nobody was open. Junior Taylor and Marcus Everett have been the most consistent. Brandon Breazell was away on personal matters and Ryan Graves is nursing a minor leg injury back to health. While not a true scorcher, Jamil Turner is a good-looking and physically strong prospect with great hands and excellent body control. I'd say Joe Cowan had two decent practices today, but I already jinxed him once and don't want to jinx him twice.
The running backs are a bit nicked up, with Derrick Williams out and Chris Markey still looking to get back into two-a-day shape. So Maurce Drew, Kahlil Bell and walk-on Ben Idemundia have been taking an inordinate amount of reps. Mo had a typical but unspectacular practice. Meaning: He didn't do anything jaw-dropping today. But we know what MO can do. Kahlil Bell continues to impress, looking more like a seasoned veteran than a wide-eyed cub. In fact, Cable called Bell one of the biggest surprises of camp. But there wasn't much good, green real estate for any of the tailbacks to roam in freely today.
On the bright side, the Bruins lined up in multiple formations. Marcedes L:ewis is one scary weapon. But as many have alluded to, a gun does no good left in the holster. If practice is any indication, Lewis seems to be involved in seemingly every third pass play. When not catching a pass, he is consuming some coverage, which should hopefully be the case all year long for UCLA and benefit the WRs tremendously.
One of the more interesting aspects of camp so far revolves around the competition among the backup TEs. The three cubs appear to have riled up both veterans J.J. Hair and even Matt Raney. Both have made decent grabs in traffic the last few practices. J.J Hair, who isn't unaccustomed to catching much of anything, has been making snags routinely and was actually demonstrably high-fiving team mates after a recent grab.
But all three of the cubs are intriguing. Adam Heater, who was utilized primarily as a blocking TE in high school, is not only more athletic than some of us previously imagined, but appears to have decent mitts, while Logan Paulsen is a legitimate-looking young TE prospect, with quicks, athleticism and very good hands.
Cable believes a year under Doc in the weight room will work wonders on this young man, who already sports considerably more bulk than he carried in high school. Cable is also excited about Ryan Moya's ability to run and catch the rock. At maybe 6'2, Moya looks more like a fullback, and may get knocked on his can in some blocking mismatches. But he will create mismatches of his own with slower, bulkier LBs and has the potential to be a demon catching passes out of the slot.
But on this day of all two-a-days, even the sure-fingered Moya botched an easy one.
After assuring the collected members of the media that his team was in good spirits, Dorrell used the term "trudging" to describe Monday's afternoon practice. That rang perfectly true to this amateur ear. Hey, when the usually glue-fingered Andrew Baumgartner and Logan Paulsen each drop two passes in one afternoon, then sumpin's sure as hell up.
Several onlookers recognized the symptoms, including one former college football star, who could definitely draw upon his two-a-day camp experiences from back in the day and easily relate to the team on this particular afternoon. Call it a bad case of second week of camp, second day of two-a-day-itis.
"I've got sore muscles, tired legs and, man, did we hit it hard this morning. It was tough to come out and get pumped up for another practice this afternoon."
Or so one player told me with a weary smile and matter-of-fact fatigue in his eyes. He eyes brightened considerably as his other bounded down the Spaulding steps bearing gifts from home, snacks and a care package.