LOS ANGELES — UCLA football is now halfway through the spring practice period and so far, there has been a few turning heads during drills but now we’re starting to see how some of the Bruins are responding to position battles, the playbook and the increasing intensity of scrimmages.
Here’s what we’re learning about the Bruins going into the third week of spring practices.
Ulbrich is putting his stamp on the defense
Lou Spanos and his gold shirt are gone and in their place is former linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich and his beard.
The new defensive coordinator isn’t implementing a major shakeup but his system allows for a little less freelancing than Spanos’ did.
"It’s not really a schematic change, I think things are more refined this year," said linebacker Myles Jack. "It’s pretty much the same stuff, Coach Brich is making things more specific. You know exactly where you should be, exactly how you should do this. It’s kind of a way to do everything and that’s really why I like what Coach Brich is bringing to the table.
Jackie Robinson Day…a Bruin great, breaking barriers and setting great examples for all to work to follow. pic.twitter.com/ieMto4SoKZ
"I think that’s where we can make our defense go to a whole other level and be one of the dominant defenses in the Pac-12."
Once again, Jack figures to be a key piece of the defense and Ulbrich is taking full advantage of the versatility of the sophomore linebacker. Under the direction of Ulbrich, the nickel will be favored a lot more than under Spanos. Jack, who was the dime in the nickel last season, is still playing a heavy coverage role in the nickel at the moment but he’s been used inside and out and everywhere in between.
"It’s definitely changed as far as just doing different things," Jack said. "Sometimes I’m more on the outside, I’m more rushing and I cover the flats and stuff like that. When I’m on the inside I’ve got more vertical jumps and everything. It’s what I’m used to, it’s what I’ve been doing since I’ve been here."
Dustups can become drills
Corner back Ishmael Adams and freshman wide receiver Mossi Johnson were involved in a scuffle in Monday night’s practice and according to head coach Jim Mora, it was a good thing.
"A little tussle between Mossi and Ish," Mora said. "Forced him to stay back in there, wanted to see if he could get refocused on move on to the next play. Your typical reaction sometimes is, ‘Get ’em out of there!’ Well, I think we’re at the point where rather than get them out of there, I want to see how fast they can refocus and move on to the next play. This is when you’ve got to learn those things."
Stairs are tricky
Freshman linebacker Zach Whitley was noticeably absent from practice Monday. Mora was pretty candid about why.
"Zach probably won’t like me saying this but he fell down the stairs today," Mora said. "He took a wrong step and I don’t what he was doing, but his heel slipped and he took a stumble. He’s just has a bruise, he’ll be back on Wednesday."
I think that’s where we can make our defense go to a whole other level and be one of the dominant defenses in the Pac-12.
-- Myles Jack
While Whitley’s biggest weakness might be stairs, his strengths are numerous. His biggest one might be playing like Myles Jack-of-all-Trades.
"He’s kind of playing a similar or same type of role as I am," Jack said. "I’ve definitely seen improvement with him. It’s kind of tough to come in in the spring and be thrown right into the fire. Kind of like what we have in the summer but we had some time to learn the plays and everything and just learn them without being thrown right into the fire and kind of be able to experiment with them a little bit. But he’s learning them and been out here playing so I applaud him for just how he’s been able to adapt to the college level.
"I think he’s going to make real big things happen there. I’m impressed with him."