UCLA's first practice of Rick Neuheisel's first season had a different format than any previous practice in recent memory.
The practice went on for three hours, but it is now split into three parts. The first part consisted generally of the first and third string, and the third session was the 2s and everyone else. There is a middle 20 minutes or so that is special teams, which includes both groups.
The coaching staff instituted this to get more reps for everyone, and it seemed to be successful Tuesday. There were a lot of numbers to keep track of.
The one thing that wasn't different, though, was the energy level, which seemed to be about the same as practices in recent years. You'd think the first day of a new era would produce a new feeling to the practice but it felt about the same.
The most glaring absentee was redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Forcier, who we were told has the flu.
Senior quarterback Ben Olson worked with the ones, and he looks to be favoring the broken foot he suffered in spring practice. He talked about it in this video interview from Media Day. He threw the ball fairly well, for the first day out when formations, routes, etc. are a bit ragged.
Working with the 3s was freshman quarterback Kevin Prince, who was impressive, for his first practice as a freshman. He has a pretty throwing motion and is very acccurate.
Kevin Craft, the projected #2 quarterback, worked in the second session, and looked nervous, throwing behind receivers. He definitely looked better in the off-season workouts and it could just be a matter of him getting over the first-day jitters. Osaar Rasshan was with the second group, and he looked about the same. Freshman quarterback Nick Crissman, despite his mechanical awkwardness, did okay; he surprises you sometimes by making a good percentage of throws.
At running back, Kahlil Bell looked very good, not appearing to be hampered by the knee brace. Raymond Carter, the redshirt freshman also recovering from knee surgery, looks big and quick. The freshmen running backs had a bit of the dropsies going through a drill and got an earful from RB coach Wayne Moses. Aundre Dean did, however, look very quick bursting through the line of scrimmage. It's exciting that UCLA has so many young options at that position now, with Dean and Milton Knox, and Derrick Coleman and Johnathan Franklin getting their first looks at that position.
Nick Ekbatani was at right tackle with the first-string offensive line, and it looks like he'll get first crack at that position.
Transfer OL Kai Maiava is getting reps with the 3s and 4s at center. We've heard that the coaching staff likes Maiava.
The walk-on offensive linemen are impressive physically. Austin Hill looks to be about 6-4 and 280, and well put-together. Brett Downey looks like he's about 6-7 and 260, but with a good frame. They both were getting reps with the 3s and 4s, Hill as a guard and Downey as a tackle.
Adam Heater, who was supposed to move from tight end to center, was working with the TEs.
The freshmen receivers and the walk-ons were in the second group, along with the tight ends. Walk-on tight end Kevin McDermott is good-sized, at about 6-5 and 230ish.
Freshman tight end Cory Harkey worked in both sessions, and got a number of balls thrown his way, dropping one that was catchable, but also looking athletic running with it after the catch. It's pretty clear the coaching staff's intention at this point is for Harkey to not redshirt.
On defense, there were so many new numbers you had to be quick with the roster sheet to identify them. There were times in the 11-on-11s when it was practically an entire unit of redshirt freshmen and true freshmen.
In the backfield, there were reps when Anthony Dye and Aaron Hester were at cornerback, and Rahim Moore and E.J. Woods were at safety. Hester plainly sticks out physically, looking very big for a corner.
It looks like the first attempt to replace Bret Lockett for the Tennessee game will be Aaron Ware at strong safety and Glenn Love at free safety, since both were at those positions with the #1 defense.
Courtney Viney, the redshirt freshman corner, showed good coverage skills, one time blanketing freshman receive Rosario, who has at least eight inches on him.
On the defensive line, the most interesting were the guys running with the 3s and 4s, since we know the 1s and 2s. Redshirt freshman Justin Edison and freshman Datone Jones and Damien Holmes were rotating at DE. Walk-on Justin Mann, who looks good-sized, was working extensively at defensive tackle.
Brian Price looks more impressive physically – a bit slimmer -- than he did a year ago.
At linebacker, it appears, for now, while Josh Edwards is still out, it's John Hale at the strongside and Kyle Bosworth at weakside. If, though, Edwards returns (expected next week) and asserts himself, we've been told that Bosworth could then supplant Hale at strongside. The second-string right now is Akeem Ayers at strong, Steve Sloan at middle and Mike Schmitt at weakside.
Another good-sized walk-on is linebacker Ryan Medina, who's a good 6-3 and 225.
The double-take of the day was when a freshman with the number 44 walked into Media Day looking pretty similar facially to Bruce Davis. It's Ian Davis, Bruce's younger brother, who is taller than his older brother, being a good 6-5, but pretty skinny (sound familiar?) at about 215.
Kevin Cummings, the wide receiver prospect from Encino Crespi, watched practice. So did Chris Coyle, the tight end from Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian, who is verbally committed to Arizona State.
Final observation: What's up with the practice jerseys? After one day, the numbers are already falling off on a few jerseys.