After one month of public spring practices, which concluded Saturday with UCLA’s Spring Showcase, the Bruins now shrink away from the spotlight. They’ll retreat to the privacy of the weight room and classroom for three months. The next time they emerge will be inside their multimillion-dollar football fortress; the Wasserman Football Center is scheduled to open in time for the team’s summer training camp in August before UCLA opens its season at the Rose Bowl against Texas A&M on Sept. 4.
Here are four lessons we learned from UCLA’s 15 spring practices:
Don’t put Jedd Fisch in a box
Although he has extensive experience among the professional ranks and shows his players clips of professional teams, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch will never subscribe to the theory that his system is a “pro-style” offense.
He prefers you just call it an offense, or if you must put a name on it, he’ll allow “Sunday system.” During spring camp, the 40-year-old coach installed a complicated scheme that showed a little bit of everything — end-arounds, bootlegs, options, play-actions, power — all in an effort to find what suits the Bruins best.
“He goes to a team and you can tell that he evaluates all their strengths and weaknesses and tailors an offense that’s great for us,” quarterback Josh Rosen said. “He’s not fitting square pegs into a circular hole. I think it’s going to be a great offense.”
The running back competition is as strong as ever
Perhaps spring practice only complicated the running back race more. With one year of game experience and productive spring practices, sophomores Brandon Stephens and Jalen Starks emerged as legitimate contenders for playing time. Stephens displayed the speed and elusiveness that’s earned him the nickname “Bunny Stephens.” Starks proved nearly unstoppable in short-yardage situations at 6-foot-1, 265 pounds while also testing the waters at fullback. Last year’s three leaders, Bolu Olorunfunmi, Soso Jamabo and Nate Starks return as well, making for another year with a crowded five-man backfield. Olorunfunmi’s two-touchdown performance led the White Team to a victory in the spring game.
Coach Jim Mora said each running back is “capable of playing in the Pac-12 and being successful,” but running backs coach DeShaun Foster also recognized the restrictions of a running back by committee approach.
“If one guy is hot, then that’s who’s going to get the ball,” Foster said.
Drops, drops, drops
A drop from Eldridge Massington on the first play of the spring game injected a painful shot of nostalgia into the minds of the Bruins fans at Drake Stadium. One year after struggling to hold on to the ball, the receivers again dropped it Saturday during their first big moment of spring. There were seven drops by seven different players, but Fisch isn’t worried. Yet.
“It wasn’t the same guy,” he said. “So I always say if it’s the same guy dropping the ball, that’s when you get nervous.”
Despite his slip up during the spring game, Massington was named a candidate for UCLA’s unofficial spring camp MVP by Mora. Massington has found the right balance between recovery and activity as he traded post-practice runs for training-room treatment, which keeps him fresher on the football field.
“Last season, I kind of left the fundamentals and little things alone and it kind of got away from me,” the fifth-year senior said. “But this year, I’m more focused on that on the details.”
Don’t be too worried about the defense
From the deepest defensive line group 11-year coach Angus McClure has had at UCLA, to Josh Woods as the next torch bearer for LBU, to Adarius Pickett as the secondary’s “next Fabian Moreau,” the Bruins have contingency plans at every level of the defense after losing four NFL draft picks and two more starters.
“I feel like we’re ahead of where we were last year (at this time),” Pickett said of the defensive backs. “I feel like this group is a more physical group.”
The two main positions open for competition still are starting cornerback opposite Nate Meadors and strongside linebacker. Darnay Holmes, Colin Samuel and Denzel Fisher are in the mix for the corner spot, while a shoulder injury stalled DeChaun Holiday’s progression as a linebacker, leaving the door open for Breland Brandt.
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