Last season, UCLA football struggled mightily on the ground.
The Bruins finished 127th out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with an average of 84.2 rushing yards per game, ahead of only Texas State.
That figure was partly why Jedd Fisch was hired from Michigan – the Wolverines featured a balanced offense that averaged 212.9 yards on the ground and 212 in the air.
Six practices into the spring schedule, Fisch has seen a difference, especially this week.
“Really the best execution has come the past two practices,” Fisch said. “We’re running better, we’re lower with better pad level and we’re getting through the line of scrimmage, advancing the football and getting some nice yardage out of some of the runs.”
Fisch hasn’t been the only new coach working on renovating the running game – the Bruins also hired offensive line coach Hank Fraley, an 11-year NFL veteran who served as an assistant offensive line coach for the Minnesota Vikings the past three seasons.
Redshirt sophomore left guard Andre James said that having a coach with 11 years of NFL experience and a positive mindset is a good fit for the offensive linemen.
“He’s just bringing a whole different type of mentality. He’s brought a lot of experience that we need,” James said. “He talks a lot about nastiness and about winning every day. We want to win every practice, physically and mentally, while focusing on the little things.”
UCLA returns four players on its offensive line who started at least seven games last year, and Fraley said his emphasis thus far has been improving the group’s technique.
“We work on our feet and we work on that every day, it doesn’t change. I’m a believer in technique, if you’re technically sound, you don’t have to be the best,” Fraley said. “If you’re technically sound, you give yourself a chance.”
Fraley also moved James, who the coach said resembled a utility player, from right tackle to left guard and redshirt senior Kenny Lacy from guard to right tackle.
During practice, Fisch also appeared to talk to quarterback Josh Rosen about the junior’s huddle presence, and the offensive coordinator later clarified that he demands a certain tempo in and out of the huddle.
“We’re trying to really teach Josh and all of our quarterbacks … when you walk into a huddle, what your presence should look like. There’s moxie when you leave a huddle, there’s a way you call a play in the huddle, and then there’s an ownership (of the huddle) and you have to be an expert,” Fisch said. “We want to train our quarterbacks to be NFL quarterbacks – that is the mentality. To do that, we’re gonna hold them to a standard of what an NFL practice sounds like.”