After three weeks of spring practice at Spaulding Field, the UCLA football team closed out camp with the 2013 Spring Showcase at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
Unlike the spring games of previous seasons, the event this year was retooled as a result of mounting injuries on the Bruins’ roster. So instead of a full-length scrimmage, the 20,000 UCLA fans in attendance were treated to a collection of drills and entertainment, and a reduced number of live snaps. Here’s a quick rundown of what went down on the gridiron over the weekend.
The first thing that stood out about the Bruins’ offense was the development of redshirt sophomore QB Brett Hundley. On top of simply looking bigger, faster and stronger overall, Hundley’s command of the offense seems to be improving steadily. It’s true that the coaching staff kept the play-calling rather vanilla for the spring game, but Hundley was still impressive.
And from a mechanics standpoint, Hundley has taken a big step forward. His footwork has become insanely quick, his passes have some nice zip and his release point is high and tight. If Hundley continues to get better through the summer and fall, the 2013 season should be an exciting one for UCLA.
One of the bigger question marks for the Bruins was who would take over at running back. And though the answer is still to be determined, the spring showcase provided some hope. Redshirt freshman Paul Perkins flashed some speed and quickness, often making cuts to gain extra yardage (albeit in a non-wrap-up setting). He also showed some ability leaking out for passes in the flat, which we all know is a large component of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone‘s offense.
Perkins should be seeing the field plenty next season, but beyond him, the running backs left much to be desired. UCLA needs to find a stable No. 1 option in order for the offense to function. Development at RB in fall camp is critical. But overall, the Bruins appear to have the pieces for a successful offensive attack.
The defense didn’t do anything spectacular on Saturday, likely as a means to avoid unnecessary injuries, but there was still plenty to talk about. As expected, the front seven was solid, consistently getting pressure in the backfield and forcing Hundley to scramble. And while that could be a result of UCLA’s injury-riddled offensive line, it’s still good to see them working their tails off. Senior outside linebacker Anthony Barr was named the defensive MVP of the showcase, by way of a fan vote. With Barr leading the charge, the Bruins’ blitz should be just fine.
The secondary is the most glaring uncertainty on defense because all four 2012 starters have left the team by one way or another. Redshirt freshman Ishmael Adams and redshirt junior Anthony Jefferson both stood out at cornerback, locking down the Bruins’ wide receivers throughout the night. Adams was particularly explosive, registering a wild interception at the goal line and calming concerns over his shoulder injury from last year. Sophomore safety Randall Goforth also had a strong showcase, and should be considered a favorite to start in the fall. If the defensive backfield can keep up with the front seven, UCLA could be downright menacing in 2013.
There were very few live special teams plays in the showcase, especially in terms of punt and kick returns. However, there were lots of opportunities to see sophomore Ka’imi Fairbairn in action, and he looked great. During warm-ups, Fairbairn was easily booting field goals of 40+ yards, and even hit a few from beyond 50 yards. Granted, there was no one defending against the attempts, but he still nailed them. Considering how inconsistent the FG game was last year, that’s a sign of good things to come for UCLA.
On the other hand, the punting duties appear to be 100 percent unsettled. On the same day that multi-year starter and all-conference performer Jeff Locke was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, the Bruins were left wondering who will be punting this fall. Redshirt freshman Justin Moreno got most of the looks on Saturday, and he badly shanked a few of them. There were snippets of success, but that won’t cut it at this level. Fairbairn also got some tries at punter, and he looked serviceable. However, his ideal focus would be placekicking. Until freshman Sean Covington finds his way to campus, the punting game will be a serious worry for the Bruins.