UCLA football Coach Jim Mora watches spring practice on April 2. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)
It wouldn't be spring practice without a little on-the-job training. UCLA's Taylor Lagace and Nate Iese have been moved to new positions.
Lagace came to UCLA as a safety but has been shifted to linebacker. Iese arrived as a linebacker and is now a defensive end.
"You recruit these kids when they are 16, 17 years old and they change a little bit," UCLA Coach Jim Mora said. "Some of these guys, they are such great athletes we start thinking, 'We have to get this guy on the field.'"
At 6 feet, 201 pounds, Lagace is small for a linebacker, but UCLA expects he will literally and figuratively grow into the position.
The role of linebacker is changing in the Pac-12 Conference, in part to counter teams such as Oregon. The Ducks put speed on the field and try to create mismatches.
Finding the right balance between brute force and speed is the challenge. "In this conference, where there are a lot of passing teams and a lot of spread teams, you don't need that old-fashioned 250-pound linebacker," UCLA linebacker coach Jeff Ulbrich said. "I think that Taylor will be able to play a critical role in our defense. Initially, he will be in that mini-back role that we started last year, but I think he could grow into the real thing."
Lagace, who redshirted last season and has never played linebacker before, said he likes contact and being positioned close to the line of scrimmage.
The biggest adjustment, he said, is "taking on linemen head on and shedding them. At safety, you just kind of dodge and weave to get to the play."
Iese too is learning new ways as an undersized defensive end. He relies on quickness.
"I have really quick hands," he said. "I can react fast. I need to gain some weight, but I hope to keep that quickness."
Iese also redshirted last season. He is listed as 6-3 and 241 pounds but said he weighs 250.
"He's that type of guy who has size and length," defensive line coach Angus McClure said. "He'll be 255, 260 easily by the summer time. He has a long reach and is quick. He has all the tools needed to be a really good defensive end."
Mora said Wednesday's practice "was a little disappointing with the way it started. It was a little sloppy." But it did contain two eye-opening moments.
Quarterback Brett Hundley displayed touch and accuracy by dropping a sideline pass to Shaquelle Evans among three defenders.
Running back Jordon James, after a poor snap and bad handoff, made a quick cut through a small hole and bolted 50 yards for a touchdown.
Mora and his wife, Shannon, will officially launch the Jim Mora Count On Me Foundation for Southern California on Saturday. Children from local charities will participate in on-field activities after UCLA's football practice.
The Jim Mora Celebrity Golf Classic, which benefits the foundation, will be held at the Riviera Country Club on May 20. Information: countonmefoundation.org.
Nose tackle Brandon Tuliaupupu injured his left knee at the end of practice and had to be carted off the field.