Amid all the blocking drills, pass skeletons and swing passes in UCLA football’s spring practice, there is one drill in particular that takes the team’s passion to an entirely different level. Wide receiver versus defensive back one-on-ones capture the crowd’s interest, like a rock band finally taking the stage after two hours of classical music.
The drill blends competitiveness and athleticism in a way that provides instant verification of success or failure, as it’s impossible for two players to come away with a grab. But, with no blockers and no blitzing linebackers, the offense has a distinct advantage in the all-or-nothing drill.
“It’s an offensive drill,” said defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin. “They should be 1,000 percent all the time. There’s no windows to throw through, you have the whole field with one DB, no clock, so they should be.”
As with any competitive activity, tempers flare. Such was the case Saturday with rising redshirt senior wide receiver Shaquelle Evans and rising redshirt freshman corner back Ishmael Adams, who had a verbal back-and-forth following an Evans touchdown.
“I saw some fights, and some dudes got kicked out, but welcome to football,” said rising sophomore wide receiver Jordan Payton.
Coach Jim Mora said he tolerates jawing and minor scuffles to an extent, but not to the point where rhetoric is demeaning and players are throwing haymakers, a circumstance that led to a couple of offensive linemen being tossed from practice on Saturday.
“You’ve got to learn how to take it to the edge and play through the echo of the whistle and then no matter what happens, you’ve got to stop,” Mora said. “I don’t want this football team to be a team that goes on the field on Saturdays and is known as cheap or trash-talking, and I don’t think we are.”
Many of the players contend that added intensity from the drill raises the level of all UCLA players, even those not directly a part of the defensive back or wide receiver corps.
“Things get intense,” said rising sophomore safety Randall Goforth. “Off the field we talk smack to each other, on the field we talk smack, and I think that’s what makes the practice intense. If we keep it intense, everyone else will follow.”
Mora goes mobile
While Mora found himself trying to tone things down on the field on Saturday, on the World Wide Web it’s an entirely different story.
After tweeting just a handful of times in his first few months on the social media site, Mora has recently utilized his wide base of followers to connect with UCLA fans.
The second-year coach even compiled short video clips in response to fan questions with the hashtag “#AskUCLACoachMora,” addressing everything from his stance on the “Mac or PC” debate to the potential for black alternate uniforms.
“It took me a half hour to sit there and answer all those questions,” Mora said. “I don’t want to turn into a Twitter-holic or anything, but I think part of this job is reaching out to your fan base.”