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Saturday, April 7, 2012
Mora intensity on UCLA's first day in pads

By Peter Yoon

LOS ANGELES -- After two days of dizzying up-tempo practices, the UCLA football team took things to another level Saturday and unfortunately it might have been a level down.

The Bruins donned pads for the first time Saturday and unlike the first two sessions of the spring, coach Jim Mora had to continually coax players into maintaining the same level of intensity the Bruins had displayed when they were out of pads.

Raised voices and four-letter bombs peppered Spaulding Field and Mora even stopped practice at one point for a huddled chew-out session as the team seemed a bit timid and lacking in energy.

"It was our first competitive day in pads and I just wanted more out of them," Mora said. "At times guys pace themselves and we can’t ever pace ourselves. We have to go. We have to go every single play."

It's an adjustment for a team that had grown accustomed to a few seconds of down time between plays and drills, but there is no such thing now. Players are expected to sprint -- not jog -- on and off the field and from drill to drill.

They are not allowed to lollygag or loaf and those things become more difficult with the extra weight of pads and the added heat of an unusually warm April morning. The "always be hustling" policy is always in effect and those who violate it pay the price with lost playing time or disciplinary action. The offensive linemen stayed after practice Saturday to run sprints because several of them had trouble keeping up Saturday.

"We have to get in shape," said guard Jeff Baca, who will be a senior in the fall. "It's tough playing at this pace because we're constantly running. It's going to take a while to get used to, but once we do, we'll get cranking in here."

Running back Johnathan Franklin, who also will be a fifth-year senior in the fall, called Saturday's practice "the hardest practice we’ve had since I’ve been here," but is happy to try a new way of doing things after going through four years of doing things the same way only to end up with mediocre results on the field.

"At times it’s hard, but if you want to change the culture, you have to forget the way things used to be," Franklin said. "Attitude is created. If you want to create a new attitude, you have to create a different way of doing things. Being average is not accepted here anymore."

Mora said that in his experience, it's not unusual for things to take a step back on the first day of pads. He said players are a bit gun shy about hitting and getting hit because it has been a while since they've done it. But that doesn't make it any more acceptable.

"My job is to set a standard and my job is to never let that standard dip and if it does, it’s my job to get it pushed back up again," he said. "If I don’t do those things then I’m failing the players, I’m failing the coaching staff, I’m failing UCLA fans, I’m failing this university and I’m not going to fail."

As far as the raised intensity level from the coaches, who were far more animated and vocal Saturday than they had been earlier in the week, Mora said that's just what happens in football when things aren't going the way they should.

"That’s coaching," he said. "Coaches get upset sometimes. ... Typically the first day in pads, at least in my career, I’ve found that’s a day you end up getting upset. Not upset, it’s just that we have to develop a sense of urgency in everything that we do. There has to be a sense of urgency about everything that UCLA football is. That’s what I’m trying to get."

Not everyone is going to meet his standards. Mora said that after seeing his team in action for a week, he's beginning to get a sense that some players might not be buying in. That's OK, Mora said, because spring practice is designed to expose those players.

"This isn’t for everybody, you know what I mean," Mora said. "If it’s for everybody it ain’t hard enough. There is going to be a fail rate. And if there’s not, I haven’t pushed them hard enough."

Mora said that for the most part, he is pleased with the team's attitude and acceptance that practices are going to be tough. He would like to see improvement in intensity and urgency, however.

"Every day we’re trying to push the standard higher," Mora said. "I tell the players every day we have to find a new level -- every day. We’re not close yet to what I want us to be in terms of urgency and effort and intensity, but what I see in their eyes is I see a willingness to do what I’m asking them to do and that’s exciting."

NOTES: Running back Jordon James (hamstring) sat out of practice, but Mora said it was "a little tweak" and expects him back soon. ... Receiver Joe Fauria (hamstring) also sat out and is considered day-to-day. "Those hamstrings are touchy," Mora said. "It's not a major, major thing. We don’t want him to miss practice, but I think you make a big mistake if you bring a guy back too early when you are talking about a hamstring." ... Receiver Ricky Marvray (back) sat out of practice, but Mora said he expected him back Tuesday. "He doesn’t have to prove how tough he is," Mora said. "I know how tough Ricky Marvray is. It kills him not to be out here."