🌧 westwood practice feat. coach azz and kelly pic.twitter.com/eKRb4XfreX
— Jared Tay (@JaredTayDB) August 18, 2021
UCLA football practices through gloomy weather in preparation for upcoming games
UCLA football redshirt sophomore kicker Nicholas Barr-Mira handled all of the team’s field goal and extra point duties a year ago and enters the 2021 season as the presumptive starter at the position. (Liz Ketcham/Daily Bruin senior staff)
By Jared Tay
Aug. 18, 2021 5:13 p.m.
This post was updated Aug. 22 at 10:43 p.m.
It’s the middle of August, but the residents of Westwood woke to a gray sky and light drizzle early Wednesday morning.
The rain continued into the beginning of UCLA football’s fall camp practice Wednesday, and though the Bruins normally don’t have to deal with inclement weather, coach Chip Kelly said it was beneficial for his squad to practice in the unusual conditions.
“It’s good that our guys get a chance to get into this environment a little bit,” Kelly said. “We may have to play in some inclement weather if we’re playing on the road.”
To Kelly’s point, it’s very possible that UCLA will see a steady dose of rain when it travels up to Seattle on Oct. 16 to take on Washington.
While that game is nearly two months away, the Bruins’ preparations for their first game against Hawai’i on Aug. 28 are right around the corner. With kickoff scheduled for 12:30 p.m. in Pasadena, it’s almost certain that Saturday’s weather will be hot and sunny – drastically different from the on and off drizzle, gray and gloom of Wednesday’s practice.
Kelly said the players will begin preparing specifically for the Rainbow Warriors this coming weekend, while the coaches already dedicated a few weeks in June to begin preparations for UCLA’s non-conference matchups.
“We had a week (in June) dedicated to our first three opponents, and that’s normal,” Kelly said. “Hawai’i and LSU, they’re not going to have any games this year (before playing UCLA) that we’ll have to add to the breakdown.”
During the portion of practice open to the media, it was more of the same as the past two weeks, with special teams drills to open the morning before the players split off to do more positional work.
As usual, the defense worked on the field closest to the media viewing area, and defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro was seen working with a few of the defensive backs and linebackers on coverage schemes.
The offense occupied the field on the far side, and though the media members usually find it hard to get an unobstructed view of its work, Kelly did shed some light on the status of the offensive line before practice.
Kelly said senior center Sam Marrazzo is slowly beginning to participate in contact drills after missing spring camp with a leg injury.
“We need Sam back,” Kelly said. “Sam’s kind of that extra coach on the field. He’s such a smart player and really anchors everything for us.”
It’s unclear whether Marrazzo will be 100 percent for the Bruins’ home opener, and his role will likely be filled by redshirt junior center Jon Gaines II, who has been taking reps with the No. 1 offense throughout fall camp.
With UCLA returning all of its starters on the offensive line along with those that rotated in off the bench, Kelly said he’s confident in many of his players’ ability to play multiple positions in the trenches.
The Bruins are returning all of their offensive linemen, and for a UCLA line already four deep at all five spots, Kelly’s ability to “plug and play” should give the Bruins additional security heading into the season.
Redshirt sophomore kicker Nicholas Barr-Mira and sophomore punter Luke Akers sat down with the media following Wednesday’s practice and both said their offseason has been centered around working on consistency.
“I was trying to get a little bit faster, a little bit stronger leg,” Akers said. “Just practicing drops and doing the monotonous, boring things that you have to do to get better.”
Though Akers is the Bruins’ primary punter, he said he’s also taken place kicks during fall camp to keep his leg loose.
“You got to practice everything just in case something happens and you have to get called up,” Akers said.
Barr-Mira, UCLA’s primary kicker a year ago, said he’s feeling comfortable kicking field goals from a range of over 50 yards.
Last season, Barr-Mira handled all of the Bruins’ field goal and extra-point attempts. He made six of seven field goal attempts, including a 43-yard kick that put UCLA in the lead with less than a minute to go against USC.
Though the media only spoke to Akers and Barr-Mira, the latter said the entire special teams unit should get credit, especially junior long snapper Jack Landherr IV and redshirt freshman long snapper Beau Gardner, for their work so far in fall camp.
“Those guys work super hard,” Barr-Mira said. “They get no credit, so shoutout to those guys.”