Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Jim Mora era blows in at a whirlwind pace
By Peter Yoon
LOS ANGELES -- The whirlwind pace of the first practice of the Jim Mora era left quite an impression on those who were actually able to keep up.
About 200 fans packed the stands at Spaulding Field for UCLA's first practice of the spring and the first under Mora, and many became dizzy just trying to keep pace with the frantic movement. Those who participated were left gasping for air, as the UCLA football team barely slowed down from the opening whistle to the final horn.
The players ran from drill to drill, took very little time between plays and practiced at a game-like tempo from the moment they stepped on the field.
"He’s big time into tempo," quarterback Kevin Prince said of Mora. "He wants practice firing on all cylinders and sprinting to the next drill and no laziness whatsoever. He’s really focused on creating a different attitude and a different mentality here at UCLA so I think today was a step forward in that direction. Obviously we have a long way to go but things are going to change."
But Mora, who brought this NFL style when he took over for Rick Neuheisel in December, said it still wasn't good enough.
"We’ve got a million miles to go to be the football team that we will become, we need to become and desire to become," said Mora, who returned to the practice field after a coaching break of more than two years.
"It was OK. I thought it got better as the practice went on. I thought the second team period was a lot better than the first team period. I think Thursday it’ll be a much different practice. They’ll understand how we want to operate and how we want them to move from drill to drill."
About the only time practice stopped was when Mora brought the players together to tell them they weren't running hard or fast enough between drills. Even during team sessions, the team ignored broken plays or mistakes and went right on to the next play. Some of the coaching took place in a later period, and most will take place in the film room.
That is the way it will be under the new regime, and the players understand.
"I loved it," quarterback Richard Brehaut said. "Everything is different. The coaches are different, the offense is different, the tempo is different. Like everyone says, we’re trying to change the culture around here, and we started that process today."
The quarterbacks, who are involved in a competition for the starting spot, were much more active in practice. They were involved with the entire team for most of the practice, breaking away for individual drills only sporadically and never getting the down time they had gotten in the past.
"We’re part of everything pretty much," Brehaut said. "We’re never taking a knee or talking."
And it's all with the mindset that practice should prepare the players for games.
"It's nice to get into a rhythm, and it was set up like a game," Prince said. "You’re out there, you’re going as soon as the play is called, the play is run and you’re on to the next play so it gives it more of a game feel."
Of course the up-tempo style led to a heightened level of physicality. Several shoving matches broke out -- "dust-ups," Mora called them -- and the contact between players got pretty heated even though they were not in pads.
Mora said he stressed the importance of trying to stay healthy and safe, but the heat of competition tends to make football players want to play football.
"I anticipated the excitement of it being the first day it would be more physical than I wanted when we’re not in pads," Mora said. "The defensive side of me loves it; the head coach side of me gets nervous about it."
One thing that might make the players nervous is that Mora and the coaches emphasized that the pace of Tuesday's practice, while dizzying and frenetic, wasn't up to expectations.
"That was not fast enough," Brehaut said. "That's what the coaches said. They said that on Day 15, we’re going to look back and see that it was too slow. It’s going to seem night and day. I can't wait to see what that looks like."
Don't blink, or you might miss it.
NOTES: Chris Ward (knee), Dietrich Riely (neck), Will Oliver (shoulder), Luke Gane (sports hernia), Connor Bradford (foot) and Todd Golpher (knee) are out for spring practice. ... Alex Mascarenas (concussion) and Wade Yandall (concussion) will be limited to noncontact drills for the spring. ... Freshman defensive lineman Wesley Flowers, dismissed by Mora in December for a violation of team rules, has been reinstated for spring practice.