After going from a 4-8 record in 2008 to a 7-6 team that won a bowl game in 2009, UCLA Head Coach Rick Neuheisel emphasized an urgency to maintain momentum that the football program has generated. As a unit that is currently mired in the lower half of the Pac-10, they’ll need to double last season’s conference win total of three to make a legitimate statement to their Pac-10 competitors.
2010 is Coach Neuheisel’s third season coaching the Bruins. His upperclassmen should be well versed in his football philosophies, and more attuned to his strategies. As the team is physically capable of returning to a bowl game, CRN reiterated the higher expectations he has for UCLA Football. With big games against Kansas State and Texas on tap for September, no time can be wasted.
The Bruins lost four captains with the departing senior class. Reggie Carter’s, Terrence Austin’s, Logan Paulson’s and Alterraun Verner’s leadership will all have to be replaced. Spring Practice is the time for this season’s key veterans to not only improve their overall game, but help their teammates get better as well.
One week into Spring Football, the Bruins have featured talented athletes who stepped up and are sure to have their names in the mix come fall, other players who have sustained an injury or underachieved thus far, and some tinkering with the offensive game plan.
UCLA hosted representatives from 21 NFL teams on Tuesday for the annual on-campus Pro Day on Apr. 2. After being measured, the scouts put the players through a series of jumps and lifts in Pauley Pavilion to start the day. Afterwards, former-Bruins/NFL hopefuls went next door to the Spaulding Field practice area where several players were tested on their timing, throwing and agility.
Notable attendants included Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson and Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox.
Many of the teams' scouts had their sights set on DT Brian Price (6-1, 301), who stood on many of his NFL Scouting Combine numbers. Price will visit six teams — Tampa, New Orleans, New England, Atlanta, Philadelphia and San Diego, before the draft.
Bruin hopefuls WR Terrence Austin (whose agent handed out Austin’s highlight reel-laden DVD and who had scores of friends and family in attendance cheering him on), DE Korey Bosworth, LB Kyle Bosworth, LB Reggie Carter, OG Nick Ekbatani, FB Chane Moline, TE Ryan Moya, TE Logan Paulsen, DL Jerzy Siewierski, and FB Trevor Theriot also went through all the drills on the field. DB Alterraun Verner and Price took part in selected drills for the scouts.
A group of former Bruins also were on hand for workouts, including: DB Rodney Van, DB Dennis Keyes, QB Ben Olson, WR Tab Perry, DB Kai Oredugba, and TB Ryen Carew. The 2010 NFL draft is set for Apr. 22nd-24th.
CRN had mentioned a tweak to the Bruins’ offensive scheme. Prior to my visit to Spaulding Field, I heard uncommon names like “Revolver” and “Pistol” thrown around by the Bruin coaching staff (Neuheisel eventually settled on "Revolver"). What I saw on the field looked to be in the vein of the Wildcat/option-style offense that has become more popular across the professional and college football landscape in the past couple years.
CRN said that a healthy Kevin Prince can be effective when he runs with the football. Although his athleticism was only featured on a few busted plays that resulted in Prince rushing the ball downfield in 2009, one unfortunate naked bootleg resulted in a broken jaw.
We’ll have to wait and see whether these schemes will be implemented in the offense come September, or if they’re simply experimental.
While much of the Pac-10 tends to run a pro-style offense, a transition toward an option-style attack would at least raise some eyebrows, and could possibly move the chains come fall if the right personnel is in place.
QB Kevin Prince – Although Prince only has one season of starting experience under his belt, he has assumed a bigger persona in the huddle, and, according to Coach Neuheisel, has become “that guy” who is more vocal, and is starting to “wear it”, especially when Prince is directing traffic in a no-huddle offense. If the new "Revolver" offense materializes in the fall, look for Prince to not only make plays with his arm, but to move the ball with his legs as well.
RB Johnathan Franklin – The sophomore nicknamed “Jetski” has looked good in practice, and figures to take on even more of a leadership role this season. Although his stint as a reality television star will help his exposure off the field, he needs to build on his success as a freshman tailback on the field.
Franklin knows that the Bruin offense has been relatively anemic compared to the stellar play of the defense, and is confident that changes are brewing in Westwood. “The offense has really turned around…we’re tired of the defense coming out, hitting us around…the defense has been killing us the past few years. On offense, it’s time for us to step up.”
RB Milton Knox is an extremely talented player whose feet looked to be the quickest of all the Bruin RBs. Although his diminutive height gives the impression that Knox is a change-of-pace back, he is a lot stronger than people think.
WR Antwon Moutra made some big catches and drew some “oohs” from onlookers in the stands.
WR Taylor Embree is a big, physical receiver who not only shines in practice, but looks like he will make some big plays for UCLA come fall. Furthermore, he was shuffled into the new-look “Revolver” package for a period of time.
P Jeff Locke was placing many of his coffin corner punts inside the five-yard-line, and reinstituted an air of confidence that Bruin Nation has in their stellar kicking game.
First-Team All-American K Kai Forbath nailed two field goals from 26 and 42 yards in Sunday’s scrimmage, and also made both extra points. In other news, grass is green, the sun is hot, and Sandra Bullock has questionable taste in men.
TB Damien Thigpen may adopt a role not unlike Reggie Bush’s role in the USC offense a few years ago. As the 5’8”/180-pound “Thiggy” is extremely quick and is difficult to catch in open space, UCLA Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow has had Thigpen lining up in the slot at WR on occasion.
LB Patrick Larimore was reprimanded for an excess of intensity when Spring Practice commenced, but after Sunday’s scrimmage, the feisty Larimore was the first name CRN mentioned when he discussed who had improved their level of play.
TE Corey Harkey – After the junior dropped a pass thrown to him, CRN shouted, “You need to make that catch! You’re on scholarship!” In Sunday's scrimmage, Harkey could only muster one catch for 11 yards.
SS Stan McKay – McKay was defending a wide receiver on an individual drill. When the wideout caught the ball, McKay simply wrapped his arms around his opponent’s body, but eventually let him opponent slip away. This drew the ire of Neuheisel, who exhorted McKay to “finish the play!!”
QB Richard Brehaut – Brehaut isn’t lacking in athletic ability, but needs to not hold the ball too long, and get a better grasp of the offense to ensure he will be Prince’s primary backup under center. His Sunday scrimmage passing totals which consisted of his completing 3 of 11 passes for 21 yards will not likely endear him to his coaches.
After UCLA football’s team doctors re-examined WR Josh Smith’s slightly torn PCL, they decided that rehab as opposed to surgery would be all that Smith will need to mend his injured ligament. Regardless, the physical wideout should be ready to go in time for fall after missing spring ball.
C Kai Maiava (shoulder contusion) was still unable to strike, but Coach Neuheisel hopes to have Maiava feeling 100 percent in time for this week’s string of spring practices.
CB Brandon Sermons fractured his leg last week during one-on-one drills. Although the femur is the largest bone in the human body, Sermons is not necessarily ruled out for fall 2010. Stay tuned for more details on Sermons’ recovery.
DT Andy Keane (finger) will require surgery on his finger to repair a loosened tendon. While Keane will miss the remainder of spring ball, he should be fine by the time fall football rolls around.
OL Nik Abele has had some stinger issues, but he’ll get some additional bracing in his collarbone area as well as rest. Neuheisel maintained that injuries to the upper torso need to be treated delicately, and cannot be taken lightly.
DB Marlon Pollard was hampered by hamstring issues but the freshman should be back this week.
Although an official score wasn't kept, UCLA once again looks to be anchored by their defense. While the offense also demonstrated some improvement and upside, the defense is still the knife that butters the Bruins' bread.
Kevin Prince completed eight of nine passes for 84 yards and tossed a pair of touchdown passes.
Prince hit Nelson Rosario for a 32-yard score on a beautifully thrown pass. Rosario wound up with three catches for 42 yards including his touchdown.
Prince also connected with Joseph Fauria for a 10-yard TD. Although CRN said Fauria was a little banged up from his practices earlier in the week, the tight end not only suited up on Sunday, but found the end zone as well.
The backup quarterbacks didn't exactly flourish, but were victims of dropped passes by their receivers. Richard Brehaut was three for 11 for 21 yards, and Nick Crissman completed three of six passes for 16 yards.
Projected starting wideout Taylor Embree brought down three receptions for 37 yards. Antwon Moutra also had three catches for 12 yards. Morrell Presley hauled in two receptions for 10 yards, and embattled TE Cory Harkey grabbed just one catch for 11 yards.
Except for Johnathan Franklin's nine carries for 44 yards, the overall running attack was unable to muster much of a push against the Bruins' stout defensive front. Franklin showcased the burst that earned him the starting job last season, as well as the nickname, "Jetski."
Derrick Coleman plodded for 19 yards on eight carries and Milton Knox logged five carries for just eight yards. Prince added 13 yards on five carries in a possible preview of more QB keepers to come.
As always, Kai Forbath, aka "Mr. Automatic", was solid in the kicking game. In addition to making field goals from 26 and 42 yards, Forbath was also 2-2 on PAT's, and is one component of the Bruin game that won't turn Neuheisel's blond locks gray.
Some defensive personnel found new life in 2010 after switching to new positions.
DT Nate Chandler and DT Donovan Carter played themselves into a significant role on defense after experimenting at a different position. Chandler switched sides of the ball after he played OT previously in his Bruin career, and Carter was strictly a backup at linebacker and on special teams last season.
Glenn Love was a merely an afterthought as a safety, but has really turned heads at his new position of "Will" outside linebacker.
Overall, the defensive backfield provided excellent pass defense, and created a few opportunities for the Bruins to post a few coverage sacks on the day.
All in all, the Bruin defense posted seven sacks. Defensive end Iuta Tepa led the team with two. Keenan Graham, Patrick Larimore, Datone Jones, and Jared Koster had one apiece, while David Carter and Love shared a sack.
Larimore played impressively at middle linebacker and may have taken a step ahead in the competition for that spot. As previously mentioned, CRN was rather effusive in his praise of Larimore after Sunday's scrimmage, and we'll probably hear Larimore's name get called quite a bit by coaches and sportscasters in a few months.