Monday, April 30, 2007

Spring Practice: Defensive Line

The defensive line is the only defensive unit to lose a starter from the 2006 season. The departure of Justin Hickman is a significant one as he and Davis lead the team and the conference in sacks (12.5). Looking to replace his minutes are Nickola Dragovic, who started the first few games of the 2005 season before having a season ending leg injury ( he tore the ACL in his left knee), and a walk-on transfer from UC Davis Tom Blake.

When asked to compare Dragovic to Hickman, defensive line coach Todd Howard said "He's 20-30 pounds heavier than Hickman and a lot stronger, He may not be as athletic as Hickman, but he can do something Hickman couldn't because of his size."

"Coach Howard has really helped with the little things," said Dragovic, "Mostly with footwork and using different styles. We have freedom to make decisions out there, to make plays or to screw up."

By all accounts Blake had a great spring practice and he impressed the coaches with his athletic ability and quickness. Going into the fall, Dragovic will likely be the starter opposite Bruce Davis but I think Blake will push him for time. "Blake has looked good in camp," Howard said. "But he has the most to learn."

Brigham Harwell and Kevin Brown both reported some weight gain this Spring. One of the nocks on UCLA's line over the last few years has been their small size. Both tackles are near 300 lbs and should be the big bodies the Bruins have desperately needed in the middle. Chase Moline missed the spring practice after undergoing surgery on his back.

After meeting with the coaching staff, UCLA all-American defensive end Bruce Davis said he changed his offseason workout regimen, which now includes plyometrics (for explosion) and a more concerted effort to gain upper-body strength. Davis said, "With the plyometrics, I feel like I'm a step quicker in everything I do, In our offseason meetings, the coaches stressed for me to get my strength way up." Davis reported that his bench press increased from 345 pounds to 400, his squat went from 465 to 525 and his clean went from 295 to 315.

Spring Game

The defense as a whole was spectacular during the spring game. Some of that was because of the strength and experience on defense, but the main reason was that the offense struggled with the new system.

When asked about the offense's struggles, Davis had this to say, “Let’s face it – we have an NFL system with NFL coaches. We’re just comfortable with our system and they’re not. That’s just plain and simple. They’re going to hit a lot of bumps in the road, especially against us. They’re going to have their hardships but it’s nothing they can’t work out.”

(sources: Daily Breeze, LA Times, Daily Bruin, OC Register)