LOS ANGELES — When UCLA finished spring practice in April, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch called the coming months “the summer of improvement.” Players, barred from extensive interaction with their coaches, had to fend for themselves. They banded together and organized their own practices. Coaches couldn’t watch the practice tape or even ask questions about the sessions.
It all forced the players to mature, linebacker Kenny Young said.
Now, as the football calendar turns from summer to fall, UCLA’s 25 player-run practices are starting to pay off as the team begins to pick up steam three days into training camp.
“They really have to go out and own it (during the summer) and I think that has really paid off these first three days,” head coach Jim Mora said Friday. “They seem further ahead. They seem less inclined, not to ask questions, but to defer, and I think that’s a good thing for us in the long run.”
The offense is still far from perfect. On Friday, Mora had to send quarterback Josh Rosen and his first-string unit off the field during a team period for not lining up fast enough. The players jogged to the sideline, making way for the next group, but the head coach called the first unit back.
“Run off the field,” he barked as he rounded everyone back up into a huddle only to send them off again. This time, everyone was sure to run toward the sideline.
While the offense is swimming in its third system in three years, the defense is starting to turn a corner in defensive coordinator Tom Bradley’s third season. Bradley said Wednesday that he sees an attention to detail that’s rare so early in the training camp schedule.
“Signals aren’t a problem for them anymore or terminology is not a problem for them anymore, so they can push it to the next step,” Bradley said. “It’s subtle little things now because they know their assignments.”
Bradley, a stickler for details, noted that his players can focus more on the minute details about their opponent now that the scheme has become second nature. Is the tackle leaning back in his stance? What information are the splits giving away? What are the receivers doing?
Everything is adding up to a “really fast defense,” Mora said, “that’s a function of guys that are fast and athletic and know what they’re doing.”
As the players become more comfortable with Bradley’s scheme, he becomes more comfortable with his players. He understands the small body language cues…