Linebacker Mique Juarez is back in the mix at UCLA spring practice
UCLA opened spring practice Tuesday and linebacker Mique Juarez officially returned to the field.
Juarez entered training camp in August as a prized freshman recruit from North Torrance High but practiced only a few days before he walked away from the team because of a “mental breakdown,” he told The Times in February.
Juarez, 6 feet 2 and 255 pounds, participated in every drill Tuesday and took repetitions mostly with the backups through the 2 1/2-hour morning practice.
“He took his first step today, his first practice, and it was good to see him,” senior linebacker Kenny Young said. “He’s a very competitive guy.”
Juarez participated in offseason workouts and his presence at the first spring practice was a non-event for Coach Jim Mora.
“It was good, but he’s been with us all winter,” Mora said. “It’s not like weird to see him because we see him everyday.”
Juarez, a redshirt freshman, will try to earn playing time in a unit that featured Young and Jayon Brown last season. Young returns, but Brown, the team’s leading tackler, exhausted his eligibility.
Junior Josh Woods, sophomores Krys Barnes and Lokeni Toailoa and redshirt freshmen Breland Brandt, Josh Chambers and Leni Toailoa also are competing for a spot.
“He’s still trying to find his way, but he’s a hell of a player,” senior defensive back Jaleel Wadood said of Juarez. “We’re happy to have anybody who wants to be a part of what we’re trying to do.”
Juarez’s departure last season disappointed a few Bruins teammates who took some of their frustration onto social media, but Young said Juarez would be treated the same as any player.
“He’s not different than anybody else,” Young said. “We had a lot of reps today and he got a chance to get a lot of reps and got a chance to learn a lot.”
Third time a charm?
New offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch has his work cut out during the 15 allowed spring practices, as he attempts to repair an offense that sputtered and stalled as the Bruins finished 4-8 last season.
UCLA’s running game ranked second-to-last in the nation, averaging 84.3 yards per game.
Fisch, formerly the quarterbacks and receivers coach at Michigan, is the third offensive coordinator in the last three seasons at UCLA, following Kennedy Polamalu, who Mora let go in November, and Noel Mazzone, who left for the same position at Texas A&M after the 2015 season.
Fisch is expected to make some adjustments to the offense.
Mora said Fisch brings new verbiage and a new way of teaching, but would incorporate concepts and schemes to fit UCLA’s personnel.
“You wouldn’t expect a wholesale just blow it up and start over,” Mora said.
Said Rosen: “You’re not changing the offense, you’re just changing how it looks, and right now, this year, is kind of just changing presentation.”
Last season, UCLA ranked second-to-last in scoring offense and total offense in the Pac-12 Conference, averaging 24 points and 359.3 yards per game.
Fisch is among four new coaches on offense, joining Hank Fraley (line), DeShaun Foster (running backs) and Jimmie Dougherty (receivers).
“They are very organized and detailed and have a great energy about them,” Mora said. “The players are responding really well.”
Cameron Griffin, a fullback who played in 11 games in each of the last two seasons, has retired from football for medical reasons, Mora said. … Offensive lineman Poasi Moala did not participate in drills. He underwent hip surgery in January. Mora said he was expected to be available for summer training camp.
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