Saturday Morning Practice Report

Priest Willis

UCLA had a light morning session, working primarily on situational work, but the big news is that Adarius Pickett moved to running back and looked good...

Saturday’s morning practice was fairly light, with the team coming out in shoulder pads and shorts for a slower-paced situational day. The team did a few 11 on 11 periods, but the majority of the practice was spent with the offense on one field and the defense on the other going through different types of specific situations they’ll face in games.

Probably the most interesting note of the day was Adarius Pickett moving to running back. If you remember, it’s a move we’ve been advocating for a while, simply based on his high school production and the way his body looks. It was just one practice, and a fairly light one, but Pickett looked completely natural at the position. He caught the ball well during receiver drills and then looked good in running back drills, showing good cutting ability.

As far as news and notes, Mora confirmed Simon Goines’ ankle surgery. Mora said that he expects Goines to be back by the third game and said he didn’t want him to redshirt. Ellis McCarthy sat out practice with a right leg issue. Mora said they just wanted to get him off his feet for a while. Malcolm Bunche returned to practice for the walkthrough after sitting out yesterday, but the trainers did stretch out his right leg at one point, so it appears there might be some tightness there. Jordon James again sat out with a hamstring issue. Mossi Johnson returned to practice, but in a red jersey. Alex Redmond and Zach Whitley both sat out.

Adarius Pickett.
During the initial team periods, when the offensive line was practicing dealing with a hard count, Caleb Benenoch jumped twice from the right tackle spot and was supplanted for a stretch by Conor McDermott. The offensive line was pretty similar to the last couple of days, with Bunche (and then Kenny Lacy after the walkthrough), Scott Quessenberry, Jake Brendel, Najee Toran, and Benenoch/McDermott from left to right.

At punt returner, Ishmael Adams, Randall Goforth, and Devin Fuller all got time. Adams looked good, as did Goforth, but it’s so hard to tell since special teams is very rarely live or full speed since the collisions can be so extreme. On the flip side, though, punting was an adventure today. Matt Mengel had a couple of nice ones, but also had his first true shank of the fall, kicking a ball off the side of his foot about 15 yards downfield. He probably averaged 30 or 35 yards on punts today, so that’ll be something to monitor.

A cool story we heard about Kenny Young the other day: in the huddle during the first day in pads, one of the older guys was complaining a bit about the heat and wanted to sit out a rep in drills. Young walked up to him, slapped him on the side of the helmet, and told him to get in the drill. The older guy was kind of taken aback, and then ran into the drill. Young is obviously already making an impression on the team as a leader, which is pretty astonishing for a true freshman at a stacked position.

The defense was similar to how it’s been, with Deon Hollins again working in with the first team at outside linebacker. He had a bit of a tough day going against a variety of tackles, including Kenny Lacy, who stoned him a couple of times. We’re very interested to see how the competition shakes out between Hollins, Kenny Orjioke, and Aaron Wallace, because right now there’s no clear leader between the three.

Mossi Johnson.
Priest Willis built on his good day yesterday to have another nice practice today. He jumped a route during the first team period where he showed good instincts and disciplined eyes to spot where Brett Hundley was going to throw the ball before he released it. His progression, and Marcus Rios’ play so far in fall, probably made the coaches comfortable enough to move Pickett to running back.

With Thomas Duarte still sitting out team drills, Eldridge Massington has worked outside and Jordan Payton has been working in primarily at the Y. Massington had another good day, and, like many guys on the team, he does a great job of catching slants and using his body to shield the defender away from the ball.

Brett Hundley didn’t have his sharpest day, looking a bit slower in his reads. Asiantii Woulard looked better than he’s looked the past couple of days, but did have a couple of missed connections with receivers where they either ran the wrong routes or he threw to the wrong spot. Jerry Neuheisel looked very similar to how he’s looked the past couple of days, which has allowed Woulard to plant himself firmly in the competition for the backup job.

Kenneth Clark had a great play in pads yesterday where he essentially shucked Jake Brendel en route to a tackle for a loss, and then today he did something very similar to Najee Toran. He has such long arms for an interior lineman, and he’s so strong that he’s a hard matchup even when double teamed.

Ainuu Taua also had a few nice moments on the interior today, but the offensive line was clearly down a few guys when looking at the second string OL. Eli Ankou also made a few plays from the defensive end spot.

2016 four-star linebacker Lokeni Toailoa and 2016 four-star receiver Jordan Fuller were both in attendance today. We didn’t spot Dru Samia, so we’d expect him tonight.

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