18 Apr 19
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
LOS ANGELES — Every practice for five weeks, UCLA defensive linemen repeatedly ran through the same circuit of drills every morning. They smacked tackling dummies, high-stepped over cones and rushed at a grad assistant pretending to be a quarterback … then did it all over again the next day.
The Bruins, tied for the fewest sacks in the Pac-12 last year, hope the extra practice produces a much-needed pass rush.
“We weren’t great at that last year and it’s something we have to obviously improve upon,” head coach Chip Kelly said. “And it can’t always be scheme. … At certain times, you’re playing against really well-coached teams that know exactly what you’re bringing and then you’ve got to win one-on-one battles, and that’s what the game of football comes down to – who can win the one-on-ones?”
UCLA’s pass-rushing options are thin during spring practice. The team’s sacks leader from last year, Keisean Lucier-South, has not been at practice this month due to academic obligations. Kelly said the outside linebacker is still expected to return to the team by summer.
Lucier-South had four of UCLA’s Pac-12-low 15 sacks last season. Only four of the sacks were attributed to defensive linemen, with Osa Odighizuwa accounting for three of them. Odighizuwa, a redshirt junior, is the elder statesman on a defensive line mostly populated by promising young players like Otito Ogbonnia, Tyler Manoa and Atonio Mafi.
“He’s got an unbelievable work ethic and a great motor,” Kelly said of Odighizuwa. “So he kind of sets the tone from an effort standpoint for those guys and they all kind of follow his lead.”
Spoken like a true veteran, Odighizuwa said he was encouraged by the team’s pass rush improvement in practice, but is “never satisfied.”
“Coach talks about being obsessed with improvement,” Odighizuwa said.
Defensive line coach Vince Oghobaase and outside linebackers coach Jason Kaufusi regularly check in with players to ask what they feel they want to work on and how the coaches can help address perceived weaknesses. Learning and refining a variety of pass rush techniques have been high on the list of priorities.
“I feel like everything comes with practice,” outside linebacker/defensive end Odua Isibor said. “I feel like no pro has gotten to where they’ve gotten to without practice and building experience.”
For inspiration, Isibor studies film of Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the two-time defending NFL Defensive Player of the Year who led the league in sacks last season. There is one particular move Isibor wants to adopt as his own. The redshirt sophomore doesn’t want to describe it in too much detail.
He’ll let his opponents know firsthand in the fall.
Up in the air
Kelly did not announce a definitive spring game format before practice Thursday, his last time meeting with reporters before Saturday’s spring finale.
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The head coach said he would meet with his assistants and the training staff to identify which players would be available for the last practice and plan accordingly based on injury numbers. UCLA had eight players seen in yellow jerseys during Thursday’s practice: offensive lineman Zach Cochrun, outside linebacker Elijah Wade, receivers Michael Ezeike, Ethan Fernea and Dymond Lee, linebacker Josh Woods, and defensive backs William Nimmo and Kenny Churchwell.
Last year, UCLA played a one-hour live scrimmage without live special teams. This year’s spring game will be televised on Pac-12 Networks at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Saturday’s practice features free admission with a suggested donation of two non-perishable food items per person to support the UCLA Community Food Closet.