UCLA opens spring football practice with an emphasis on welcoming fans

UCLA coach Deshaun Foster talks with the reporters after the program's Pro Day.

For a moment, it were as if nothing had changed. UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond walked onto the practice field Tuesday morning and found his new football coach in a familiar spot.

“He caught me over there by the running backs,” DeShaun Foster said with a smile after the Bruins’ second spring practice and first that was open to the public. “It was like, man, if you had come out here a little earlier you would have seen me on the defensive field.”

After going from running backs coach to head coach, Foster has made some changes of his own in an attempt to give his team more of a family feel beyond welcoming fans, recruits and former players to practice. Names adorned the backs of jerseys for the first time anyone who had been around the program for decades could remember.

Was that done to help a staff that includes six new coaches more quickly learn the players? Nope. Foster wanted to make things easier for reporters.

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“I just think that you guys should know who the players are instead of numbers and stuff like that,” Foster said. “Coaches better learn everybody’s names, but for you guys to see people, I thought that would be better off.”

There were the usual rhythms of spring practice. Whistles blew, bodies accelerated, blue padded dummies thumped to the ground and popped back up.

One voice repeatedly rose above the others. It belonged to new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who called his players back into a huddle after not liking what he saw.

“We should be communicating with each other!” Bieniemy bellowed.

Foster said he loved Bieniemy’s energy in the early stages of installing the West Coast offense.

“My first pillar is discipline, and you’re going to hear that out here,” Foster said. “I’m excited about that. He’s getting the guys going, holding them to a standard that they want to be held to. And I think that’s going to help us get to where we want to go.”

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As expected, quarterback Ethan Garbers worked with the first team and showed nice touch on a crossing route to J.Michael Sturdivant and a deep pass to Titus Mokiao-Atimalala along the sideline. But Foster said all starting positions were open.

TJ Harden could be pushed for the starting running back role by Keegan Jones, who not only returned to UCLA after entering the transfer portal but is moving back to his old position after being used mostly as a receiver last season.

“They took one of my toys away from me,” Foster said. “I got him back.”

Foster said his top priority before he briefly left for a job as the Las Vegas Raiders running backs coach was to make sure he could re-recruit Jones as a running back in UCLA’s offense. Last season, Jones averaged a team-high 10.9 yards in his 14 carries while scoring two touchdowns.

Read more: UCLA spring practice five things to watch: Can anyone challenge Ethan Garbers?

“His explosive plays to touches is unmatched,” Foster said, “so it’s just somebody that, you know, we can use in this offense and going into the conference that we’re going into, I don’t know if they have a lot of guys with that type of speed.”

As he glanced around a practice field teeming with excitement, Foster said he wanted to be inclusive in his debut season at his alma mater.

“This is what the Bruin family needed,” Foster said. “You know, it doesn't need to be closed off and isolated. This is, look at this. This needs to be shown, you know, people need to see this. So I was excited for it, I loved that we had a lot of recruits out, the fans coming out to support. Let’s just get them to the Rose Bowl.”

Injury updates

Quarterback Collin Schlee did not participate in practice while recovering from an unspecified injury, but Foster said he hoped to have Schlee back later in the week. … Running back Deshun Murrell is recovering from back-to-back anterior cruciate ligament injuries, Foster said. There should be a better idea about a possible return this season by fall training camp. … Offensive lineman Benjamin Roy Jr. is dealing with a back issue, Foster said. … Wide receiver Braden Pegan appeared to hurt his shoulder in practice.


Foster said safety Bryan Addison, a transfer from Oregon, and linebacker Ale Kaho were expected to be granted seventh years of eligibility. Kaho is expected to practice later in the week while continuing to round into form from an injury that sidelined him last season. … Foster said Mokiao-Atimalala, who practiced but did not play last season for unspecified reasons, should be able to play this season. … Siale Taupaki has moved from offensive to defensive line, and Dovid Magna has made the opposite switch. … Foster said Jerry Neuheisel going from wide receivers coach to tight ends coach is a move that will accelerate his desire to call plays. … Defensive lineman Quintin Somerville and defensive back Isaiah Newcombe are no longer with the program, Foster said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.