UCLA football was back for more fall camp action on Saturday, giving additional insight into the team’s personnel status with the season opener one month out. There was more to watch than just who was or wasn’t available, though, with the media getting an up-close look at Ken Norton Jr. run some drills with the inside linebackers.
The former All-American, Super Bowl champion and NFL defensive coordinator was the most entertaining to watch work in spring camp, and that has continued through the summer and into the fall. The way he talked to players during punch-out forced fumble drills and block-shedding drills was insightful and engaging from a third-party perspective, and the linebackers seem to be learning from him pretty well.
JonJon Vaughns was one of the guys who stood out most Saturday, both in terms of his success rate in the drills, his balance of strength and athleticism and the praise he earned from Norton. The new inside linebackers coach doesn’t seem to hand out compliments easily, either, as he is quick to stop drills and give honest input when he sees mistakes on the field.
Norton’s group is a bit thin on high-level scholarship players, but he is giving individual attention to every last student-athlete at the position.
Tight end Mike Martinez was missing again, as was offensive lineman Jon Gaines II. Gaines was back at home with his family while his father recovered from a major medical procedure, though, and coach Chip Kelly said he would be back in Westwood on Saturday night.
Linebacker Damian Sellers was absent as well, which checks out with him not being listed on the team’s official roster. Kelly said Sellers was unavailable, rather than gone for good, so his status moving forward remains up in the air.
Tight end Carsen Ryan and linebacker Ale Kaho were the lone players who appeared to be banged up. Ryan had a full compression sleeve on his right leg, while Kaho rode around the field on a knee scooter with a boot on his left foot.
Kaho was actively watching all the individual linebacker drills, shouting out his teammates from the sidelines when they succeeded in a rep.
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Sitiveni Havili-Kaufusi, who had been perpetually injured for over a year, was actually taking part in drills with the defensive linemen Saturday. His position on the depth chart is unknown, but it was notable just to see him out on the practice field for real.
Running back Brian Kowall did go into the injury shed with what appeared to be a lower body injury, but it was unclear how severe the injury was.
The punter situation remains unclear, even though the Bruins did open things up with some punt drills Saturday.
Nicholas Barr-Mira was the first to take a rep, and Kelly said Saturday morning that the team is considering using him as both the starting kicker and punter. Preferred walk-on freshman Chase Barry was up next, and the only pure punter on the roster shanked one to the right.
By the time the punter rotation was on its second go-round, though, Barry more than made up for his early mishap by bombing the longest and straightest punt by anyone all day. His final attempt traveled over 60 yards in the air and pinned the return man inside the 5.
Receiver Logan Loya was the starting punt returner, followed by receiver Kam Brown, receiver Josiah Norwood, receiver Jake Bobo, receiver DJ Justice and receiver Elijah Rodriguez.
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