LOS ANGELES — The Bruins are cleaning things up, so to speak.
Wednesday marked the first day that UCLA played with a full officiating crew. The Bruins ran 144 plays and received only one penalty on a snap, something coach Jim Mora was encouraged by. But the practice was far from perfect, as Mora admittedly said there were far more pre-snap penalties issued.
And the issue itself is one that the Bruins will need to see significant improvements made, as they were the most penalized team in the Pac-12 last season, coughing up 91.5 yards per game to their opponents. Penalties against Stanford – both the regular season and the Pac-12 Championship game – proved to be turning points in tight games.
“I asked them to call it tight, which I think they did,” Mora said. “Those are things that are going to hold a team back unless you address them, and so we are. That’s why we’re bringing the officials out here.”
Mora pointed mostly to the freshmen and redshirts and felt it was simply their inexperience coming through in a low-pressure training camp atmosphere. But several high-profile freshmen are expected to start this season, most notably in the secondary, and whether its jitters or the cadence, it will be crucial that they find ways to settle themselves down once they’re under the lights.
“The first group is clean, for the most part,” Mora said. “But those young guys have to be able to process the information that’s called at the line of scrimmage with regards to the play or the defense that we’re calling. They’ve got to be able to process the snap count, they’ve got to be able to handle movement opposite them and they’ve got to be able to react without jumping offside because those are the penalties that knock you off.”
The team will continue to hold some practices with full officiating crews before the season opener against Nevada on Aug. 31.
“We’re doing the things we need to do in order to become a better football team,” Mora said. “To me, it’s just a matter of locking in on eliminating those mistakes that we know hurt us last year.”
Former UCLA head coach Dick Vermiel told Mora during a spring practice that his punter wasn’t very good. Mora could only laugh: The Bruins didn’t even have a punter on the roster during the spring.
But coach Vermeil can rest assured, the Bruins do, in fact, have a punter now in freshman Sean Covington.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Covington has already locked down the starting spot. He is the only punter on the roster, after all.
“(Mora) just said, ‘You’re the only guy so you need to just step up and do it,'” Covington said.
The Bruins’ only leg is a quality one. The Treasure Island, Fla., native, displayed that leg in the Under Armour All-American game earlier this year and comes to UCLA ranked the No. 3 high school punter/place kicker in the country, according to FOXSportsNext.com.
He once booted a 57-yard field goal that set a St. Petersburg High School record and was the leading scorer on his high school team.
Still, Covington does face a difficult task of replacing All-American punter Jeff Locke. Already, he possesses the same two punts that Locke had in his repertoire (long and booming and a high rugby-style kick).
But Covington doesn’t quite have it down to a science like the Vikings’ punter does.
“The ball comes off his foot nicely,” Mora said. “I don’t know if he’ll be the Jeff Locke that can pin teams down inside the 10-yard-line on a consistent basis. That’s kind of an art. But I think eventually he’ll be that guy.”
Already, Covington fits right in with his new Southern California surroundings: He surfs, skateboards and plays beach volleyball.
“When I saw California and heard they were looking at me, I was just like, ‘This is crazy. That’s my dream college,” Covington said. “I’ve always wanted to live in California.”
Checking in with Malcolm Jones
The last time Malcolm Jones was at UCLA’s San Bernardino training camp, the redshirt senior running back was discontent and maligned. This time around, Jones knows he is starting with an almost-clean slate.
Determined to rewrite his story, training camp is the first step.
“Our coaches always say words mean one thing and your play will say another thing,” Jones said. “I’ve got to work as hard as I can on the field to give my all every play.”
A nice guy on the surface, Mora soon realized Jones was a better runner when running with a chip on his shoulder. The objective is to get Jones to “run angry.”
He’s using his past struggles and channeling a record-breaking role model as motivation.
“I try and look at Adrian Peterson because he’s really just a mean runner if you really watch him,” Jones said. “I’m just trying to run hard on every single play, lower my shoulder and knock some heads – do what I can to get down the field.”