Calling it a bye week might be a bit misleading given everything that needs to be done.
UCLA’s football team ran practice drills Tuesday that focused on holding onto the ball and different types of tackling … and that was before stretching.
Bruins Coach Jim Mora said the bye week “couldn’t have come at a better time” for his team, considering all the areas it needs to improve on before playing Arizona on Oct. 14 in Tucson.
One area of emphasis Tuesday was pursuit drills in which defensive backs tried to blanket receivers after the play the offense called broke down. Those were the kinds of free-for-all situations that led to repeated defensive holding penalties against UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl during its 27-23 victory over Colorado.
“It’s extremely hard,” UCLA safety Adarius Pickett said of shadowing receivers who are making freelance moves. “You’re covering one route and the receiver breaks that route, and he either takes off down the field or he comes back to the quarterback.”
The Bruins also struggled to stop Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez when he eluded the edge pass rushers on a couple of long runs. UCLA used receiver Damian Alloway, a shifty and speedy runner, at quarterback Tuesday to practice containment.
Tight end Caleb Wilson, out for the season because of a foot injury, may not be as easy to simulate. Mora said his team wouldn’t drastically alter its offense without its second-leading receiver.
“Someone else is just going to have to do a heck of a job where Caleb was doing things,” Mora said, “and there’s several candidates.”
Austin Roberts and Jordan Wilson are the only remaining tight ends with game experience, but Mora said true freshmen Jimmy Jaggers and Moses Robinson-Carr also might be able to contribute. Roberts was excused from practice Tuesday to attend an NCAA Football Oversight Committee meeting in Indianapolis, Mora said, but was expected back when the Bruins resume practice Thursday.
As if the Bruins didn’t have enough going on this week, there was an important item added to their agenda: Classes started for the fall quarter.
Mora said he was hopeful that the Bruins would get defensive end Jaelan Phillips, right tackle Sunny Odogwu, linebacker Lokeni Toailoa and left guard Najee Toran back from their injuries for the game against Arizona.
Phillips hasn’t played since Sept. 16 because of an ankle injury, and Odogwu missed the first five games with various injuries. Toailoa sat out the Colorado game with an undisclosed injury, and Toran left in the third quarter with what appeared to be a leg injury.
Linebacker DeChaun Holiday has a chance to make his season debut against Arizona, Mora said. He was sidelined since spring practice because of a shoulder injury. Mora said he expected Holiday to be able to participate some in practice Thursday as he tries to round his way back into playing shape.
Linebacker Breland Brandt is considered doubtful to play against the Wildcats because he’s experiencing symptoms from a recent concussion, Mora said, though he was expected to begin the return-to-play protocol Wednesday.
If you spot a UCLA player wearing a boxing-style championship belt, it’s because they were a knockout on special teams.
The Bruins have awarded the belt each week to the best player on special teams, with the winners including Pickett, Mossi Johnson and Quentin Lake, all defensive backs.
“It’s staying in the DB family,” said Pickett, who wore the belt after blocking a field goal against Texas A&M in the season opener. “Hopefully I can get it back soon.”
UCLA awarded its final scholarship to punter Stefan Flintoft, whose average of 40.9 yards per punt ranks fifth in the Pac-12 Conference. … The Bruins held a scrimmage for their scout-team players as a reward for the drudgery of constantly simulating other teams.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch