First Day in Pads

They didn't hit much, but the UCLA football team looked more comfortable in pads Thursday. The defense looks good, and some players are beginning to step up and make an impression...

It was the first day of practice in pads and you could see that many of the players felt more comfortable after two days of just helmets and shorts. Even though they were in pads, there was generally no tackling, except for the "Bruin drill" where a few offensive linemen face off against defensive lineman while a running back hits a hole. Faring well at the drill was Steve Morgan, the fifth year senior DT, as well as Ryan Boschetti, the JC DT transfer. Sean Phillips also looks to have a good shot at the open starting DT position, working with the first team in the light scrimmage at the end of practice. Phillips looks huge, and with him standing next to Rod Leisle on that front line, it's pretty impressive.

Junior Taylor (pictured at right) has shaken off the rust from the first two days and looked smoother and more comfortable Thursday. He still has many fundamentals to get down, but he looked more in sync and caught some nice balls. Even though it's just three days into practice, Jacques Lazarus is disappointing. He physically has all the tools, but looks to be lazy and lacks concentration. In the wide receiver drills he's incredibly inconsistent. Wide receiver coach Ron Caragher emphasizes precision and fundamentals in routes, and he is working hard on getting Lazarus to do so.

The tight end position looks like a strength. Mike Seidman appears to be very focused and ready to be a star. Keith Carter, the redshirt freshman, is going to be a contributor, showing flashes of greatness. Blane Kezirian is looking more like he'll be able to contribute. Saia Makakaufaki is struggling.

On the offensive line, Paul Mociler was getting some snaps at center with the starting unit. He looks quick off the ball and is a pretty big body in the interior. In the scrimmage at the end of practice, the two veteran tackles, Bryce Bohlander and Mike Saffer, looked very physical and solid. Steve Vieira also had a good showing at right guard.

At running back, Akil Harris looks to have an edge on the starting job, but it's pretty apparent that the UCLA coaches want to give everyone a look. It was the first practice really where we had a decent chance to see the running backs perform, and it looks like the pecking order is Harris, Manuel White, Tyler Ebell, Wendell Mathis and Jason Harrison, but it also appears that the coaches have confidence in all of the tailbacks. White is lining up quite frequently at fullback, or in what Head Coach Bob Toledo calls their "lion" offense, which features White and another tailback. The word is that Harris has gotten stronger. It still appears that Ebell is going to be a good change of pace. He also was moved around a bit, being used in the slot. Mathis looks to still have that same explosive burst he showed last season in practice, and is easily the quickest and probably the fastest among the tailbacks. He doesn't look like he gained much muscle, looking slightly bigger, but he does look more refined in his running style.

Matt Ware has taken snaps with the offense, running the option. There is some considerable athleticism and quickness when you have Ware turning the corner and pitching the ball to Ebell.

At quarterback, John Sciarra continues to be a bit of a surprise. He's not really wowing anyone, but the improvement over last fall is marked. His throws are quite a bit stronger and crisper. He's just about the same size as Cory Paus but lighter, and there's a huge difference in Sciarra's quickness compared to Paus's.

The word is that Boschetti is the fastest among the defensive tackles, and he looks it in practice. He also has very good quickness, and he's looking just too good to redshirt this year. Once he gets more and more comfortable, he very well could be competing for a starting DT position. With Phillips and Morgan also looking good, the DT depth is again one of the strengths of the UCLA defense.

If you attended practice and are wondering who the defensive end with the no. 95 is, it's a volleyball player who is walking on to the football team, James Jessen. A true freshman, Jessen is 6-5 and 220. For football, he'll need to gain some muscle, but he showed nice quickness and good feet Thursday.

The defense overall is quite a bit further along than the offense, and there's a huge difference in the defense this spring compared to last. The linebackers have collectively all gotten bigger and better. In the first few days of practice, it looks like Tim Warfield, Dennis Link and Spencer Havner are stepping up and are ready to make significant contributions. This is huge, since depth at linebacker is obviously a concern. Link looks bigger, as we've reported before, and his size makes him less likely to get pushed around physically at the middle linebacker position. Warfield also looks to be focused and playing well.

In the defensive backfield, the corners continue to impress, while there is concern at safety. Raymo physically is impressive, and had a good showing Thursday in the scrimmage, but he needs to be more consistent and in position. Chad Rogers, the walk-on, looks to have some fire to him, and has a head for making plays.

One of the concerns of spring practice is finding a longsnapper to replace 4-year starter and BRO message board denizen, Jeff Grau. Rusty Williams, David Tautofi and Mike McCloskey are all possibilities. Toledo said, "Rusty Wiliams is the leading contender at this point. He's worked hard in the off-season. He recognized that it was an opportunity for him, something that he thinks maybe could help him get to the next level. He was very outspoken at the end of last season that he wanted to do it. So, right now, Rusty is the best. But Tautofi and McCloskey are working on it."

When asked how he sees incoming tight end Marcedes Lewis working into the team's plans in fall, Toledo smiled and said, "We have a plan already intact on how we're going to use Marcedes. He's definitely not going to redshirt." Does that mean he could line up at wide receiver or even defensive end? "I'll just say we're developing some things to take advantage of Marcedes' abilities."

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