Some wrinkles showing
One of Josh Rosen’s first passes during practice Friday was a flea flicker. It fell incomplete, but just the concept seemed enthralling for those who endured the monotony of UCLA’s play-calling last season.
“Fun” and “creative” were not words associated with the Bruins’ offense in 2016, when a receiver pass from Jordan Lasley against USC in the second-to-last game of the season represented the team’s first trick play of the season.
Enter new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who seems like Steve Jobs compared to predecessor Kennedy Polamalu’s Alexander Graham Bell. UCLA’s offense has appeared relatively innovative during the first three days of training camp, with lots of quick passes, Rosen rollouts and even an option pitch from Rosen to tailback Brandon Stephens.
Those inclined to hold off on any definitive takeaways a month before the season opener, realizing that offenses typically show very little this time of year, might want to reconsider.
“We’re showing a lot,” Bruins coach Jim Mora said with a smile when asked about what appears to be a more dynamic offense. “There’s a lot of wrinkles, there’s a lot of different uses of personnel groupings, cadence and tempos and formations and movements. I think the players are enjoying learning it and coming out here and applying it and we’re early in the learning process still, so it’s not going to be perfect all the time, but you see some really great things.”
Mora noted that a variety of players have been engaged in the new scheme.
The connection that appears to be a staple is Rosen and receiver Darren Andrews. Rosen found Andrews for a 55-yard touchdown Friday,
Bolu Olorunfunmi is also making a strong case to be the featured tailback after having drastically increased his lean muscle mass in recent months.
“He’s running well,” Mora said, “he is running with burst. … Bolu’s been impressive.”
The other side
UCLA overhauled its offensive coaching staff and its play-calling with hopes of changing its fortunes. The plan on defense is for continuity to lead to more of the same.
The Bruins brought back all four coaches and return six starters on defense, which was a relative strength last season. UCLA ranked fifth in the Pac-12 Conference in total defense (382 yards allowed per game) and third in pass defense (210.5 yards allowed per game).
Tom Bradley is entering his third season as the team’s defensive coordinator, and that familiarity should have its benefits.
“A lot of times, you get the look from somebody and he says, ‘I got it, I got it,’ and he really don’t got it,” Bradley said. “But I don’t know that well enough. Now I know them to know there’s guys I can go to and say, ‘Listen, are we too far’ or ‘Is this too much?’ And they’ll be honest.”
Mora has listed the defensive line and the defensive backs as the two positions where UCLA has the greatest depth.
It also helps that those positions are rife with veterans who know what’s expected of them.
“Terminology is not a problem for them anymore so they can push it to the next step,” Bradley said. “It’s subtle little things now because they know their assignments. When you know what you’re doing, it’s a lot easier to study your opponent and not worry about, ‘Oh, jeez, am I right?’ So I think that’s going to be a plus.”
The Bruins were down two running backs in practice. Soso Jamabo was held out because of tightness in his back, Mora said, and Jalen Starks was absent because of a family emergency. … Mora called it “a tough day for the young guys” after players completed summer finals, finishing the portion of training camp in which they had to deal with both football and schoolwork. He was visibly upset with defensive backs Octavius Spencer and Nate Meadors when the team gathered after practice. “I think mentally, it’s tough,” Mora said. “It’s fatiguing to them. But I’m proud of them for how they pushed through it.”