SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — When UCLA finally took the practice field at Cal State San Bernardino in full pads for the first time Friday afternoon, a new electricity was in the air.
After four days of minimal contact, the opportunity for players to make and take hits was a welcome change for players and coaches, allowing them to get a true sense of everyone’s development and skill set.
But one player seemed to revel in the change more than others and take full advantage of the allowance of contact. Within a span of several minutes, sophomore safety Tahaan Goodman quickly laid two offensive players on their backs, drawing attention from the crowd of spectators as he stood over his victims, the collision not seeming to have an effect on him at all.
For the fans, they were two big, standout hits after a week of touch football, but for Goodman, it was just another day in his life.
“All my life really I liked to give big hits,” Goodman said.
It certainly looks like he’s had plenty of time to perfect the art of the tackle. Joining an experienced group of defensive backs, Goodman’s heavy hitting has quickly helped him differentiate and make a name for himself.
“He’s our little pit bull,” said junior cornerback Ishmael Adams. “Our offense tries to give us a little challenge every once in a while and when … (redshirt junior running back Steven) Manfro wants to lower his shoulder a little bit, man then we have to unleash the serpent.”
Goodman – “the serpent” – made sure to clarify that he tones down his intensity when facing his teammates in practice to avoid injuring them, though it isn’t obvious when watching his style of tackling. For Goodman, ‘big hits’ take on a different definition than the average tackler.
Still, coach Jim Mora said he hasn’t had to talk with Goodman about going easier on his teammates in practice, though he does occasionally worry about Goodman, given his physical style of play. But ultimately, Mora wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I guarantee this: I’d much rather have to pull a guy back than push him to go, and Tahaan you don’t have to push to go. He’s got a violence to him,” Mora said.
After practicing in spring and the first five days of fall camp as a defensive back, freshman Adarius Pickett sported a new look Saturday morning as he took the field dressed in the offense’s white jersey rather than his usual blue shirt. A former four-star recruit, Pickett practiced with the running backs Saturday, a position he excelled at in high school.
Mora said the switch was prompted partly from Pickett’s success on offense in high school, as well as Mora’s desire to play as many freshmen early on as he can. Mora said, given the depth of the defensive backfield, the offensive backfield may be a better spot for Pickett to see the field quickly.
“Running back is a spot where we’re still looking for some depth, someone that can have an impact and he seems like the perfect (fit),” Mora said. “Adarius is an impact guy and it seems like that might be a better spot for him.”
While Pickett was recruited as a defensive back and figured to eventually play safety, Mora said the freshman was excited about the change when the coaching staff approached him about it Friday night.
“I think that his quote to (defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin) last night was, ‘I’ll leave here the starter.’ Not in an arrogant type of way but a determined type of way, but I think he’s excited about it,” Mora said.
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Sam Handler appears to have torn his ACL on his right knee after injuring it Friday, Mora announced. Handler hadn’t yet had an MRI as of Saturday morning, but Mora was pessimistic about the injury.
Freshman linebacker Cameron Griffin will also miss time, as Mora said Griffin will likely needs surgery to repair his shoulder, which he injured early in the week.
Freshman wide receiver Mossi Johnson, who missed most of the past week after suffering a mild AC sprain to his left shoulder, returned to practice Saturday morning wearing a red, no-contact jersey. Mora said he generally doesn’t like players other than the quarterbacks to participate without contact, but wanted Johnson to get some work in.
Junior offensive tackle Simon Goines, who has yet to practice since breaking his right fibula in a game against Arizona State on Nov. 23, will miss more time after undergoing surgery Friday to remove bone spurs from his ankle. Mora said he told Goines that he wants him ready to play by UCLA’s third game and doesn’t want to redshirt him.