Thursday, February 27

Defensive players stand out in football’s first week of practice

Defensive end Jaelan Phillips didn't waste much time before making an impression. The true freshman was a constant presence in the backfield at UCLA's first practice in pads Saturday. (Michael Zshornack/Photo editor)

For two straight practices, UCLA football’s defense outplayed the offense and earned the privilege of running around the field afterward.

A large part of its success is because of Jaelan Phillips.

The freshman defensive end and former five-star recruit is living up to the hype through the first week of fall camp, as he consistently dominated the offensive line from his razor position and registered pressure on the quarterbacks.

“If you were to compare him to a former Bruin great, he’s built similar to Anthony Barr – about the same height, same range, same quickness,” said defensive line coach Angus McClure. “Jaelan’s been playing very well; he came in very much a raw athlete, so we’re really honing in on his fundamental techniques.”

To improve his technique, Phillips said he compares film of himself and NFL players.

“(I watch) the (Cincinnati) Bengals, (Kansas City) Chiefs – various things that Angus puts up that we have to study,” Phillips said. “Different stunts they run that we run too and different techniques to use in pass rushing.”

Aside from the heralded freshman, UCLA features the depth to go two- or three-deep at each defensive line position. Six returners saw action in at least eight games last year.

McClure said he prefers to give each group the same number of reps, and in Sunday’s practice alone, he worked in nine different combinations. The ability to do that hinges on each player’s understanding of the unit as a whole.

“Angus is very strict, making sure that we know all the positions because you need to look at it as a scheme rather than just a position,” said redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Rick Wade. “Knowing where the other players are going to be and then if someone goes down, we can all play that position and rotate. It’s good to be able to interchange all the people like that.”

Individually, a couple of the upperclassmen stood out in team drills. Senior defensive linemen Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Matt Dickerson both recorded multiple sacks throughout the weekend. Last season, both players appeared in all 12 games, but Tuioti-Mariner only recorded three sacks while Dickerson had none.

Freshmen’s first finals

The freshmen had it rough in their opening week.

Thanks to the NCAA rule banning two contact practices a day, the first three days of training camp coincided with the end of finals week for summer classes. The combination of tests, papers and practices that ended well after sunset took its toll on the younger members of the team, according to coach Jim Mora.

“Three days of football practice, very limited sleep – they get out of here at 10:15, 10:30 (p.m.), and they’re back at meetings eight hours later,” Mora said Friday. “You can see that it caught up to the young guys, but they pushed through it. It’s good now that we can get into our normal routine, that they finished their papers, they finished finals, and we can get into a true training-camp routine.”

Modster earns backup-QB role

At Pac-12 Media Day, Mora said that redshirt freshman Devon Modster earned the backup spot to junior quarterback Josh Rosen. The Mission Viejo, California native received all the reps with the No. 2 offense Saturday and tossed touchdown passes to redshirt freshman tight end Jordan Wilson and redshirt junior wideout Jordan Lasley.

Modster was a consensus four-star recruit and ESPN pegged him as his recruiting class’ No. 13 pocket passing quarterback.

Senior staff

Wang is a Daily Bruin senior staffer on the football and men's basketball beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor for the men's tennis, women's tennis and women's soccer beats. Wang was previously a reporter for the men's tennis beat.

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