UCLA football opens spring practice Tuesday
In his fifth season at UCLA, Jim Mora, who made a name for himself coaching defense, will adjust the Bruins’ offense.
The project begins Tuesday when UCLA holds the first of 15 spring practices. The first test comes in a season opener Sept. 3 against Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.
“It’s always important that you maximize the talent and the abilities of your players,” Mora said. “We have a unique quarterback right now and a chance to really tap into his greatness, so we are going to do things that we think will help him be successful.”
The Bruins won’t entirely abandon the spread attack, but will run a more pro-style offense that will highlight quarterback Josh Rosen, who was named a freshman All-American quarterback last season after completing 292 passes, 23 for touchdowns.
“You’ll see elements of power, elements of spread, elements of no huddle and the quarterback making decisions at the line of scrimmage,” Mora said.
A tight end and fullback will be incorporated.
UCLA’s shift in philosophy comes after it got knocked around by Nebraska in the Foster Farms Bowl.
“We are always trying to get bigger and stronger, that’s not some revelation. That’s what you do in football,” said Mora, whose Bruins finished with an 8-5 record last season, the fewest wins during his tenure as coach.
After the season, Mora promoted Kennedy Polamalu to offensive coordinator following Noel Mazzone’s departure for Texas A&M.
Several players are expected to be limited or sidelined during the spring. Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes continues to rehabilitate a knee injury that sidelined him last season and cornerbacks Fabian Moreau and John Johnson will be held out of drills.
Six players in the highly regarded 2016 recruiting class enrolled in January and will participate: Receiver Theo Howard, linebackers Mique Juarez, Breland Brandt and Lokeni Toailoa, defensive back Leni Toailoa and kicker J.J. Molson.
Here are some questions facing the Bruins heading into the spring:
Who are the playmakers on offense?
With receivers Jordan Payton, Devin Fuller and Thomas Duarte gone, fifth-year senior Darren Andrews and fourth-year junior Eldridge Massington must replace their production.
Last season, Andrews made seven starts and caught 43 passes for 443 yards and a touchdown. Massington caught 11 passes for 119 yards.
Ishmael Adams, a three-year starter at defensive back, will switch to receiver. Junior Alex Van Dyke, third-year sophomore Jordan Lasley and Howard, a top-rated receiver from Westlake Oaks Christian, are also expected to compete for playing time.
At running back, a committee of Nate Starks, Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi will take over for Paul Perkins.
Who will play tight end and fullback?
Fifth-year senior Nate Iese, who is listed at 6 feet 3 and 250 pounds, and third-year sophomore Austin Roberts, 6-2 and 215, will play tight end. Last season, Iese caught 11 passes as a fullback.
Third-year sophomores Ainuu Taua, 5-11 and 295, and Cameron Griffin, 6-3 and 235, will play fullback.
Taua played in eight games last season as a defensive lineman. Griffin was recruited to play linebacker.
Who will protect Rosen?
Center Jake Brendel, a four-year starter, exhausted his eligibility and on the right side of the line tackle Caleb Benenoch and guard Alex Redmond declared for the draft with eligibility remaining.
Left tackle Conor McDermott chose to forgo early entry into the draft to return for a final season. Guard Kenny Lacy also returns.
Kolton Miller made five starts at tackle as a freshman and is expected to replace Benenoch. Third-year sophomores Najee Toran and Poasi Moala and redshirt freshman Josh Wariboko will compete at guard. Toran, an offensive lineman his freshman season, played last season on the defensive line before he was moved back to guard for the bowl game.
Scott Quessenberry, a fourth-year junior, was sidelined last season because of shoulder injuries but is projected to start at center. Quessenberry started as a freshman and sophomore.
What changes have been made on defense?
Lineman Kenny Clark and linebackers Myles Jack and Aaron Wallace are gone, but the rest of the starters on defense return.
Clark, projected as a late first-round or early second-round pick, will be difficult to replace. Matt Dickerson, Keisean Lucier-South and Rick Wade have a chance to move into that position.
Dickerson made four tackles for a loss last season, including a sack. Lucier-South and Wade redshirted.
Who has a leg up as kicker?
All-American placekicker Kai'imi Fairbairn, a four-year starter, scored more than 100 points in four seasons. Last year, he kicked field goals from 60 and 53 yards.
Molson was considered a top kicker in the 2016 recruiting class and is the favorite to take over duties.
What were the off-season coaching changes?
Mazzone departed for Texas A&M to become the Aggies’ offensive coordinator, and he took his son, Taylor, the Bruins quarterback coach, with him.
Polamalu was promoted to offensive coordinator, the same post he held at USC for three seasons. He will continue to coach the running backs.
Marques Tuiasosopo left USC after two seasons as tight ends coach to return to UCLA and coach quarterbacks. Tuiasosopo coached the Bruins’ tight ends in 2012.
Associate athletic director Rip Scherer will transition back to coaching, working with the tight ends.
UCLA’s spring practice schedule
All practices held at Intramural Field on campus, unless noted, and are open to the public.
Tuesday, 7 a.m.; Thursday, 7 a.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.; April 4, 4:30 p.m.; April 6, 7 a.m.; April 7, 4:30 p.m.; April 9, 10 a.m.; April 11, 4:30 p.m.; April 13, 7 a.m.; April 14, 4:30 p.m.; April 16, 11 a.m.; April 18, 4:30 p.m.; April 20, 7 a.m.; April 21, 4:30 p.m.; April 23, Spring Showcase at Drake Stadium, 11:30 a.m.
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