Monday, April 28, 2008

Craft vs C-Force

It was an interesting night at the Rose Bowl last Saturday. You don't want to draw too many conclusions from a spring scrimmage simply because the offense and defense are so vanilla. But hey, that's not going to stop me from comparing the two quarterbacks who took the most snaps... Forcier and Craft. Both had some nice moments and some missteps. I don't know if either really made a strong case for being the starter this fall but I think both could be serviceable quarterbacks in the future.

Kevin Pearson had these statistics and comments from Craft after the practice,
UCLA QB Kevin Craft finished 11-of-24 for 95 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. He said it was tough to jump in with the first unit on such short notice and that his timing was a little bit off, partly because he has not gotten a lot of reps lately, and was largely indifferent about his performance Saturday.

"I don't think I helped or hurt myself at all," Craft said. "I just had to come out today with what I had and I feel like I have a lot of room for improvement. There is a lot of work that I have to do in the off-season."
I think it is important to note that Craft was also going up against the second team defense and he was playing with the first string offense. His competition percentage looks a bit low at first glance. Less than 50%. Some of that isn't on Kevin, though. A number of times he had to throw a very quick pass to avoid a sack. There were also a hand full of incomplete passes where the receiver went one way and Craft threw the ball another way. Those might very well be from him not working with that unit much before the scrimmage.

What I will say about Craft is that he seems fairly mobile. He's not exactly quick and not a scrambler like C-Force, but he can avoid pressure fairly well. He reminds me of Pat Cowan with the way he runs. He looked good on his bootlegs and he looked very comfortable stepping up in the pocket. Kevin definitely looked more comfortable with the pressure than Olson has looked in the past. That probably comes from the playing time he's notched over the last few years. Another thing with Craft is that he helped keep drives alive. They kept moving the ball with him under center, even if it was just barely getting 10 yards and a first down.


Person gave these statistics and comments about Forcier

UCLA's Chris Forcier finished 4-for-6 for 52 yards in the spring game and looked more like a passer. He has shown a tendency to tuck the ball and run too quickly but looked more like he wanted to be in the pocket instead of being a run-first quarterback.

"I had a couple of good series in there and the one series we drove down the field I had a couple good passes and it boosted my confidence," Forcier said. "That's the biggest thing for me is staying confident."

Just as I noted with Craft, it's important to know that Chris was running with the twos against the first team defense. So we're grading on a curve with his results. That being said, the statistics above are misleading. Very misleading. Forcier may have only attempted 6 passes but the coaches called in far more passing plays than that. What happened was that Chris would take off running when the pressure came. Sometimes that would result in short 2-3 yard gains and other times it would result in a sack. In fact, he was sacked somewhere around 3-4 times during the scrimmage.

Forcier also had an interception on a head scratching pass. He tossed the ball deep but nobody was within 20-yards; well nobody besides the safety who promptly picked the ball off as it came his way. That may have been nerves as it came pretty early in the scrimmage. There was also a fumble with him at the helm but I couldn't tell if it was his fault or the running back. There were some bumbled snaps as well and that could be a problem with the 2nd string center.

In contrast to those misteps, Forcier did have a very nice series in the middle of the game. Probably the best of the night. He moved the ball quickly down field with some very nice passes that were crisp and right on the money. The team picked up 3 first downs on 4 plays and then a Ramirez run capped the drive with a touchdown. It was impressive.

If I had to choose

If I had to pick one to be my starting quarterback right now, I would choose Craft. He just looked more comfortable with the offense and he made fewer mistakes. I think Forcier, as a red-shirt freshman, has some good potential. If he can settle down in the pocket more and not take off scrambling at the first sign of pressure then he'll be a very good QB. His best drive came when he had his best protection and if he can just stick it out in the pocket longer, he'll have fewer sacks and short-yardage runs.

They didn't really air the ball out much, so I can't tell who has the better arm. In the 7-on-7 drills before the scrimmage, Craft looked like he zipped the ball in quicker and was more precise. I also think he makes better reads. He doesn't try to force the ball as much as Chris and I think that comes from his experience.

Neither of them, at this point, look ready to play in a real game. That's understandable given the lack of reps they've received with Cowan and Olson ahead of them on the depth chart. But with both of those guys on the mend, maybe the extra practice will give Craft and C-Force a little more polish on their games. With injuries plaguing Ben his entire career, I think we'll need both of them to stay sharp this season.
(photo credit:

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Spring Scrimmage

Just got back from the Spring Scrimmage at the Rose Bowl. All in all, it was a really fun time. The defense dominated but the offense looked better than I expected. I came away feeling pretty good about Kevin Craft and Chris Forcier as quarterbacks. Even Rashaan had some memorable moments.

When I rolled into the old Arroyo Seco, the team was just starting the "Bruin Walk". Good timing! It was cool to see the players make their way down to the stadium. The sad part was seeing Pat Cowan and Ben Olson limping along behind the team. One of the fans asked if Pat needed surgery and he said yes. Bummer. Looks like he is officially done. Coach Neuheisel stopped the scrimmage, near the end, and had Ben and Pat take a standing ovation from the crowd. It must be tough for these guys as Seniors.

The scrimmage started out kind of slow. The offense struggled in the first few series. It was ones vs twos, so Craft and the first string had a bit of an easier time. He put together a nice series on his second (or third, I can't remember) time out. Hitting Logan Paulson across the middle for a big gain. He finished that drive with a Theriot touchdown on a draw. Nice to see the FB and TE getting into the mix. Craft hit Ketchum for a TD on a drive that started in the red zone and he also threw one interception. All in all, a pretty solid performance. I think he'll be a serviceable QB.

Forcier and Rashaan had a harder time. Both had fumbles and some missed snaps. Forcier put together a nice drive, starting at mid field, that ended in a Ramierez touchdown run. He had some crisp passes and he has some speed when he's running. It was a no-hit scrimmage for the quarterbacks, so we really couldn't see how well these two would perform when scrambling. Chris also threw a terrible pick early in the scrimmage that was thrown downfield without an offensive blue jersey in sight. It was sort of a mixed bag from him tonight.

Rashaan struggled the most of the three. He had some problems with the snaps, as you might expect from someone who really hasn't played much at the position this spring. But he did have two "wow" passes. One went to Taylor Embree on a long pass to the far side. That kid made a great catch and I see why people talk about him. The other was a scrimmage ending toss to a walk-on (Pearlman, or something, I forget) that was a perfectly placed ball right over the middle for six. The rest of the time he had "happy feet" and he would take off running before he really needed to.

On defense, Brian Price and Reggie Carter both had good nights. The name that really stood out for me was Courtney Viney. He was involved in a lot of plays and I saw him on the field for a big chunk of the game. He picked off a Kevin Craft pass and broke up some others. He reminds me of Trey Brown. He isn't the biggest kid but he's good at keeping position and getting involved in plays that come his way. He might get picked on early this season, but I think he can handle it.

On the injury front, John Hale was on crutches. Guess he got hurt this last week. Craig Sheppard was pulled from the game early when he got hurt on a play and I guess Glen Love also went out late in the scrimmage. We'll see what happened to those guys tomorrow.

Anyways, enjoy the pictures (sorry, they were taken hastily with my cell phone). The announced attendance was 15K. It was a fun atmosphere and they tried to make it feel as close to a real game as possible. The only difference was that I had great seats on the 50 and got in and out of the Rose Bowl in less than 10 minutes. Ah, if only it could be like that during the season.

(Photo credit: CPBruinFan)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cowan Likely Done

Well, Pat's time as a Bruin could be done. He has damage to his ACL after injuring his leg in practice Thursday. The doctors have to wait for the swelling to go down before they determine if surgery is necessary. If it is then that's basically all she wrote for Cowan. It can take almost a year to recover from that type of injury and with Pat a red-shirt senior, his days in the blue and gold would be over. Ben Olson may need a screw put into his foot. He broke the bone and is expected to be out 6-8 weeks. Which would make him available for Fall camp if his recovery is on track.

It looks like the rebuilding season may start at quarterback as well. If Olson isn't ready to go or if he hurts himself again for a fourth straight season, then Craft or Forcier will be the starter for the season. Boy, Neuheisel and Chow had some foresight in picking up Kevin Craft. I can almost guarantee that he'll be the starter at some point in this 2008 season.

The More Things Change

New vibe around the team? Check. Faster paced practices? Check. New coaches, new scheme, and a new attitude? Check, check, and check. Injured quarterbacks. Ummm... check and check again. I guess the more things change in Bruinville the more they stay the same. Both Pat and Ben were injured yesterday and the two will miss the Spring Scrimmage on Saturday.

The extent of both injuries will be found out today with MRIs. Cowan was injured earlier in the week and missed Tuesday's practice and it looks like he aggravated that knee injury again on Thursday. He was carted off the field with Olson in toe. The big south paw planted his right foot and said he heard a "pop". Not good.

Coach Neuheisel tried to find some silver lining to the fact that his top two quarterbacks were injured.
“You always try to look at the bright side. If it were to be that they could not play on Saturday, it would be an excellent opportunity to find out under fire (about) the other three kids (quarterbacks Kevin Craft, Chris Forcier and Osaar Rasshan). The two seniors certainly have had a lot of playing time. So you’ve got to always look at the bright side.”

This does give Kevin Craft and Chris Forcier a chance to step up and prove themselves. Before you get too excited about them for this season just remember that they are 3rd and 4th on the depth chart for a reason. I'm not expecting too much from them on Saturday but it will be a good preview of the quarterback battle for the 2009 season. Oasar Rasshan, who is determined to stay at quarterback despite being 5th on the depth chart, has now moved up two spots. I still think he needs to move to wide receiver, but at this pace, we might need him at some point behind center. So maybe sticking at quarterback isn't such a bad idea after all.

I suppose if you are going to get injured, now is probably the least damaging time to do so. Spring practice is almost over and most of the offense has been installed. Depending on the extent of both injuries, Pat and Ben could miss some time over the summer. That's when the players usually get together and practice on their own to help learn the play book. If both are ready to go by the fall then UCLA should be in good shape.

The bigger concern, however, is that they could re-injure themselves again during the fall or during the season. If the past is any indication of the future, our backup guys need to make the most of their time with the first team. We'll likely be calling on them again this season to lead this team. I think Craft could be a good quick-fix for this team. He's at least started and played some games over the last few seasons. Forcier is still very, very raw. Rasshan also proved that he has a long way to go before he's ready to take the reigns of this team.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

One Step Back

Well, spring practice is rapidly come to an end and the Bruins had their second scrimmage on Friday. With the new offense being installed, you knew the defense was going to dominate... and they did. It seems like this offensive unit it progressing but there are a lot of kinks that need to be worked out. A lot of kinks.

You know things didn't go well when your two offensive coaches have this to say about the scrimmage: Coach Rick Neuheisel said "we need to improve dramatically in the throwing game." Offensive coordinator Norm Chow said, "we couldn't run the ball a lick.


Bruin Gold's Jeff had a more optimistic assessment in his report of the scrimmage. On Thursday, he reported some noticeable improvements over prior years. So like many Bruin Gold participants, I was hoping to read a glowing report of continued development on Saturday morning. Well, it didn't quite come out that way. Things got off to a good start and the passing game looked pretty good in 7-on-7 drills:

The first part of the scrimmage was 7-on-7's. Both Cowan and Olson were HOT during this session. Cowan was 10 of 12 for 78 yards and he hit 7 different receivers. Olson was 4 of 7 for 25 yards, but all three incompletes were due to dropped passes. He hit 4 different receivers in his time. Both of them looked crisp and accurate. Naturally, no pass rush, but throws on time and accurate count in my book. The only other QB to get snaps during the 7-on-7's was Craft, who was 1 of 3 for 3 yards.
Coach Neuheisel echoes these comments in his post scrimmage interview. Even going so far as to say that it was the best 7-on-7 performance by the offense to date. That's encouraging news and it shows that our QB's are starting to really get a feel for Chow's scheme. It also tells me that our skill guys are getting into sync and the timing on throws is improving.

Unfortunately, that success didn't translate into the full 11-on-11 scrimmage. With a full pass rush and our O-line in the mix, the results were a step back from the first scrimmage. Ben and Pat, who were in tune during the passing drills went for an anemic 8 of 20. The running game was no better and it left a lot of coaches scratching their heads.

It is pretty obvious from all accounts that our offensive line is going to be a liability this season. The reports above bare that out in black and white. Our skill guys, without the o-line, have their best practice of the year. When you throw in the big uglies, the offensive momentum comes to a grinding halt. Some of that can be attributed to our stellar defensive tackles. Brian Price and Brigham Harwell will be a force to reckon with come September. Still, this O-line has struggled from day one and they'll face some pretty good defenses in addition to the one they see on Spalding field every day.

The problem isn't that our offensive line doesn't have any size or athleticism. They're not a star-studded group by any stretch of the imagination and we definitely need some infusion of talent there, but they are a serviceable group. No, the problem is the lack of experience and, probably most importantly, the lack of continuity in the coaching staff. Bob Palcic is the fourth offensive line coach in as many seasons and Chow the fourth offensive coordinator. These guys have been starting from scratch every April since they came to Westwood. That has to take a toll on your confidence and your ability to progress from season to season.

I'm sure, like most fans, I was hoping for some quick turnaround with our dream team coaching staff. I know it is still early, and I don't want to get too down on them, but this offense needs a LOT of work to become productive in time for the season. The stark truth is that I don't see any coaching staff, no matter how experienced or talented, being able to turn this offense in just one season. There are just too many holes and too little experience on this team to be successful this year. Especially with this offensive line where they don't even have enough bodies to patch together a third unit that can practice with Kevin Craft as the QB.

(photo credit: Michael Chen / Daily Bruin)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Thursday Practice Report

Another practice and another fantastic practice report from Bruin Gold's Jeff_is_smiling. It sounds like the offense is starting to make some progress. Here are some of the big things that Jeff noticed in yesterday's practice.

After watching the offense warm up and go through individual drills, the team moved into passing drills between the quarterbacks and receivers:
THE MOST STRIKING thing I watched all practice was in the next session. One of my complaints on QB/receiver timing from previous years was that the QB's tended to throw after the break occurred. Olson more openly, but Cowan as well. Well, not so much anymore. it is OBVIOUS that this was a point of emphasis from Chow. In one series of reps, only 1 QB (Osaar) did not throw the ball prior to the break on longer routes. One time Forcier missed his timing. On each occasion, the ball ended up being thrown poorly and/or out-of-bounds. Typically the ball was thrown at least 1 step before the break. Even Olson. I was really thrilled to see that they are working that hard now. It is an obvious (to me anyways) departure from the performance I watched at practice last year.
It sounds like some of the fruits of Chow's simplified offense, and the team's practice, are starting to pay dividends for this offense. When they started a passing scrimmaging with the defense, the offense had some success moving the ball on a regular basis:
Pass scrimmage started next. I have to admit, I can see alot of promise in this offense. We are clearly not close to where we need to be from a timing standpoint between QB's and receivers, but there are already elements that the QB's seem to fully understand that are immediately paying off. It is clear that our bread-and-butter play, the one that is the rock solid foundation should everything else not a little 3 yard pass. We KILLED our own defense today repeatedly using this little pass. It seems like we are throwing underneath the coverage when blitzes occur, and this little 3 yard pass gets a lot of Yards After Catch out of it. Over and over again, we'd get 6 yards out of it. Sometimes a lot more depending on how aggressively the defense was blitzing. Also, our timing routes in 1-on-1 coverage using a fade throw up the sideline is looking very crisp as well.
In a full scrimmage there was a good mix of running and passing and while the offense still needs a lot of work, it sounds like they are starting to make up some ground on the defense.
The team then went into a normal scrimmage mode. Again, the offense did better than I anticipated. We mixed the run with the pass and ran better than I thought we would. Still not anything close to where we need to be, but it was competitive. I hadn't seen much competition the last few years, but it seemed competitive to me. Of the defenders, Norris and Verner both made quite a few plays. Viney was singled out a few times for good coverage as well. During this time, Coach Rick Neuhiesel made sure that the pace kept up. He yelled at the offense, "Come on guys, get out of the huddle!" to quicken them up.
Very encouraging news. The new fast pace, some progress being made, and new guys stepping up and having good practices. Those are all the things you like to see during the spring. Let's hope that today's scrimmage and the following week continue to show improvement for the whole team. Next Saturday's spring game should be a lot of fun.

Bob Palcic on the Line

The offensive line this spring has been taking a beating and not just on Spalding field. They've gotten a bad rap from the media and fans who have watched practice this spring. I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the comments from offensive line coach Bob Palcic on how he thinks this unit will perform come September.

The big concern with the line is the lack of experience. Only Micah Reed and Micah Kia have significant playing experience. Palcic has some optimism about this squad, because he has worked with inexperienced players before. He had this to say, after Thursday's practice:
Have you ever had a line with this little experience?

“The line that I had at the University of Wisconsin two years ago...Joe Thomas, the Outland Trophy winner, didn’t practice in the spring...that line, minus the Outland trophy winner, was pretty much like this line. And we won twelve games, so I’m confident that if we keep working hard, and keep concentrating and pay attention to details that we can develop into a solid unit.”
For most of spring practice, the first-unit offensive line has been Sean Sheller (right tackle), Scott Glicksberg (right guard), Micah Reed (center), Darius Savage (left guard) and Micah Kia (left tackle). Bob thinks that these player are a solid unit:
"I think Micah Reed will be a good, solid center for us," offensive line coach Bob Palcic said. "Micah Kia is the most experienced player I have, and I have some other kids that are really good kids and have a good work ethic, and they'll keep improving."
While that starting unit is pretty set, the second string is still a work in progress. After last Saturday's scrimmage, Palcic had this take on the line's depth:
"I thought that the first line did a commendable job for a first scrimmage, for being as young and inexperienced as they are. The second offensive line, we need to get much, much better."
The big shake up this spring was Alexi Lanis taking a medical retirement. That hurt the squad's depth but it does give an opportunity for his backup Sean Sheller to step up and prove himself worthy of the starting role at right tackle. Palcic thinks that the red-shirt sophomore has a lot of potential:
"I think Sheller's a good athlete. I think he'll develop into a good player. He's got quick feet. He's good in space."

Does Sheller have confidence?

"He's getting there. You can't have confidence until you've mastered a subject, and he has not mastered the subject, and none of my players have. We're a work in progress, and hopefully working in that direction."
One of the problems with the line is a large number of false starts and bad snaps. The exchange between center and the quarterback was a big problem on Thursday and the coaches are looking to fix that problem ASAP. It looks like it will be a long season with this unit and coach Palcic has no delusions about the difficult road ahead of him this season:
Is this one of the toughest challenges you’ve had as a coach?

“This ranks up there with the toughest challenges I’ve had, yes.”
With all the struggles and challenges this team has faced during the spring, it should start getting much better going forward. The installation is done and now it is just a matter of drilling and refining them into a cohesive unit.
Generally, how do you look at the development of the o-line thus far this spring?

“I think for the most part we’ve improved each and every practice. We still have a long way to go, but we pretty much have everything installed that will be going in for the Tennessee game, so the learning process will slow down and the execution should improve.”

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ditch Day in Perspective

So the Over The Wall tradition is likely dead after this season. With all the flap over the ditch day that the players organized, I don't think we'll ever see it again. Which is a good thing because it's a pretty lame tradition. But all that being said, I think people are getting WAY too worked up over it.

I understand that Spring Practice is only 15 days. Obviously, missing a practice with such a small number of days is going to hurt. It hurts bad with this team because of their lack of experience and the fact that the coaches are installing a new offense. It also hurts because there is a scrimmage on Friday and they miss out on a day in pads. The other pain comes from the high school coaches and recruits that came out to watch practice. All of them left disappointed and it doesn't reflect well on the program.

I agree with all of that.

Where I don't agree with some fans is when they say this shows a lack of commitment from our players. Our team and group of players is committed as any. I know they are eager and hungry to lift UCLA out of the mediocre play that has encapsulated our program this decade. You got guys like Chane and Chase Moline and Glen Love and others who are playing with broken bones and bad backs and they're out there every day busting their butts in practice.

I also don't agree that this will hurt us for the season. We have a lot of freshman talent coming in this fall anyways, so there will be a lot of shuffling of the depth chart. You'll have a whole batch t of guys who need to learn the entire offense and defense starting in August. Besides, our team is going to struggle this season no matter what happens this spring. We're not going to compete for a national championship. We're not even going to compete for a conference championship. This is a rebuilding season despite what anyone says. I'm not saying that the season is a lost cause or we shouldn't try our hardest to win. It's just that the depth and talent we have is so thin at this point that no amount of practice is going to make this team really competitive. We're just not on that level yet.

Actually, I think the Over the Wall stunt might actually help this team. Not in the immediate future, but in the long run. I think the flap they are receiving about this shows them that this program is back on a national stage and people are paying attention. Apparently this happened under Dorrell (he even helped organize it) but none of us knew about it. Why? Because nobody cared to make a big deal over it. Now that Neuheisel and Chow have joined the staff, people are sitting up and taking notice of UCLA again. I think the young guys in the program are going to learn from this that people are watching. UCLA football is serious stuff and the fans and media have big expectations for them. That's a good thing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Embree Impresses

First off, there was a great report on Monday's practice from Jeff_is_smiling over at Bruin Gold. He has a lot of detailed information on the practice and his impressions of the new coaching staff. One thing in particular caught my eye in his post. He had this assessment of true freshman Taylor Embree:
The 11 X 11 plays were only note-worthy in that it was the first time I got a chance to see Taylor Embree in action. OMG...he was ALWAYS open, and he ALWAYS caught the ball with his hands and he ALWAYS got separation. He looked every bit as good as some of the posts have been saying. He was GREAT! Not sorta good, or occasionally adequate...but GREAT!
Brian Dohn mentioned that Embree had a standout day on Saturday during the scrimmage:
Receiver Taylor Embree, a freshman who enrolled in January and the son of former UCLA assistant Jon Embree, made several nice catches in Saturday's scrimmage. According to some folks I respect a lot when it comes to talent evaluation, the talk was about his high level of concentration and his hands.

"My dad has always kind of drilled me to catch the ball, and be ready to get hit when you catch the ball,'' Embree said. "The main thing is to just focus. I've done a lot of drills growing up where you focus on the ball, and not worrying about the surrounding. Once you catch the ball, that's when everything else happens."
Freshman wide receiver Taylor Embree continues to impress in both the 7 on 7 and the 11 on 11 drills. He runs solid routes, has the knack of getting open and better yet, he catches the ball. It is apparent the quarterbacks have confidence in the freshman.
I have to say I didn't think much of Embree when he enrolled. He was a gray-shirt who didn't receive much press out of high school. The recruiting services didn't rank him at all... and I don't mean they ranked him low. They really didn't even rank him. He was that far under the radar. I was surprised that he earned a scholarship offer from UCLA at the time and I think a lot of recruitniks thought he was just getting the scholarship because he has family ties to UCLA with his dad.

But low and behold the guy is for real. We could use a go-to receiver pretty badly on this team. I like the notion that this kid will catch anything thrown his way. I look forward to more reports on this new receiver as spring camp progresses!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Thin line gets thinner

This is bad, bad news. Alexi Lanis, who was probably the most talented lineman on this years team, is taking a medical retirement. This is a big blow to a unit that is already thin on talent and experience.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bowens a Bruin

Isiah Bowens, an outside linebacker from Bishop Amat High School is the latest pledge for the Bruin's 2009 class. This puts UCLA to four commits for the next class and all of them are on defense. I'm pretty sure we'll see some offense commits soon after spring practice as our coaching staff completes the installation of Chow's scheme.

Here is a YouTube highlight reel of Bowens in action (#2). The video primarily shows him as a receiver but he'll likely lineup on defense for the blue and gold. Bowen isn't the biggest kid, just yet, at 6'3" and 220 lbs. I'm sure, by the time he gets to Spaulding field, he'll have added some more weight to the tall frame. He's a talented athlete that also plays baseball. Bowen's had two outstanding offers from SDSU and Texas A&M.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cowan in the Lead

So, the big news coming out of Spring practice this week is that Patrick Cowan is in the lead for the quarterback spot. The coaching staff says they haven't settled on him as the starter just yet, but actions speak louder than words. Cowan has taken the majority of the reps with the first string in today's scrimmage and Ben Olson has been relegated to the second team.

Norm Chow had an interesting quote this last week. He said that Cowan has the stronger arm of the two leading quarterbacks. That goes against the conventional wisdom that us Bruin fans have known for the last two season... mainly that Olson was the stronger passer.

Chow tried to downplay the fact that Cowan was getting more time with the first string:
"We're not coming off the mountain making a sermon saying 'This is the anointed guy,'" Chow said. "There is no big master plan. Rick and I have been around quarterbacks long enough that we'll know. The quarterbacks know that there is only one ball."

However, Ben seems to know that his chance of being annointed the starter again for this next season is starting to slip away:

"I wouldn't say it's going well," Olson said. "I felt like I did some good things (Thursday), getting the opportunities that I'm given.

"I'm not where I need to be. I don't think anybody is. We're learning the new stuff and it's going to take time. You're out here watching and you're seeing a lot of mistakes."

After today's scrimmage he had these rather stark and honest assesments about how he thinks things are going:
Olson said he was disappointed not to be given a chance to compete.
According to one Inside UCLA reader, Olson looked lost and hesitant during the scrimmage. Meanwhile, Cowan had a couple nice drives and it sounds like he is impressing the new coaching staff.

I have to say, I gave up on Olson last season. He just doesn't have the quick decision making that Cowan does. Sure, he looks impressive off the field, but the dude just doesn't have it when it comes to real game-time situations. He hesitates and double-pumps a lot. Add that to the fact that he is kind of fragile out there on the field. He gets hurt easily and both knees have been banged up. He wasn't very mobile to begin with but now he's just a liability when the ball is in his hands.

I'm glad to see the coaching staff isn't going on reputation alone. Cowan wasn't highly regarded or recruited coming out of high school but he's proven to be the better player. He's a competitor and without Pat's grit and determination, UCLA would never have beaten USC in 2006 nor Washington and California in 2007. He also has a much, much, much better pocket awareness than Ben. He's better at avoiding the pressure and that's going to be a necessary skill with our limited offensive line talent this season.

If this trend continues, I think we could see Olson transfer this summer. I don't think he'd sit on the bench as a senior. That would leave Craft as a pretty good backup. He's done some good things this spring and I can see him developing even further as he learns more of the offense. Ultimately, whatever happens with the QB depth, I think this team will be just fine with the players that remain. Cowan was my first choice anyways and there are some good young players in the pipeline behind him.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Shawn Oatis Medical Retirement

Linebacker Shawn Oatis is taking a medical retirement. This wasn't entirely unexpected, since Oatis has had neck issues since the 2005 season. He re-injured his neck this week in practice and that was the final straw.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

2009 Recruiting (Part 2)

Throughout this last week, a number of football recruits have stopped by Spalding field to watch the Bruins practice. Here is some background information on some of these recruits and some others that UCLA is planning to host this month.

Tate Forcier (QB) is the younger brother of red-shirt freshman Chris Forcier. He is generally considered the most talented of the three Forcier brothers (Chris' older brother just transfered to Stanford) with a good arm and elusive scrambling ability. Scout ranks him as the #10 quarterback nationally and gives these statistics from his junior campaign at Diego Scripps Ranch: rushed for 733 yards on 66 attempts and had six touchdowns; passed for 2,387 yards and 21 touchdowns with only five picks, for a 77% passer rating (164-for-213), which led San Diego County. He does not yet have an offer from the Bruins. His junior highlight video on YouTube is worth a watch.

Allan Bridgford (QB) is the starting quarterback for Mission Viejo High School. His teammate, Alex Mascarenas, has already committed to UCLA for next season. He is a classic pocket passer and stands tall at 6'4" . As a junior, Allan threw for 1,642 yards and 15 touchdowns against just 3 interceptions. He has offers from Stanford and Texas Tech but is still waiting on an offer from coaches Chow and Neuheisel.

Richard Brehaut (QB) from Rancho Cucamonga is another talented passer in a very deep 2009 class. ESPN has a good evaluation of Brehaut that is worth a read. They describe him as an accurate and intelligent passer. Decent mobility, tough, and someone who can throw fairly well on the run.

Byron Moore (S) is a great athlete out of Harbor City. Moore impressed some people last fall as he was named to next year's Army All American game. Moore was very impressed by his visit to Westwood this last week and he almost committed on the spot. He still wants to wait and continue the process, but UCLA is high on his list. He also has offers from Arizona and Colorado.

Michael Philipp (Ot) is a big, 6'4," 300-pound offensive line prospect from San Bernardino Arroyo Valley High School. Philip was an all-state underclass selection in 2007 and Scout ranks Michael as the #10 offensive tackle in the country. He has an impressive list of scholarship offers from pretty much every single PAC-10 school. His two older brothers play for the wildcats, so that could be a factor in his recruitment. He enjoyed a visit to Westwood back in February and coach Neuheisel seems very interested in him becoming a Bruin.

John Michael Davis (LB) is a smallish, but athletic line backer from Los Flores. He hasn't received many offers yet, with just one from New Mexico, but the Bruins have been pursuing him aggressively since last year.

Noel Beckles (DT) is a beast on the defensive line and this 6'2" tall 290 lb tackle would be a great pickup for the Bruins. Last season at Verbum Dei, he had 52 tackles, 13 for loss and five sacks.

Glen Love Update

The talented and big red-shirt freshman went down with a hand injury on Monday. It looks like he broke his thumb but the injury does not require surgery.
“As soon as the swelling subsides a little bit, he can get casted and come out here and get a lot of work done,” Coach Neuheisel said.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Pecking Order

We've only had a few days of practice but it looks like the coaching staff is ready to start settling into a pecking order for the quarterback position. Ben Olson, Pat Cowan, and JC transfer Kevin Craft have been taking mosr of snaps with the first team. Today, Neuheisel wants the team to spend half of practice scrimmaging, so they can begin to identify a leader.

The goal here is start increasing reps for the guy who is supposed to start this fall. With five quarterbacks in the stable, the coaches need to reduce that list down to just one or two guys who they can focus most of their attention on. My guess is that Olson and Cowan are the most likely to make that cut, but there have been a lot of positive things being said about Craft this spring. If anything, he is a solid backup who can jump in and play right away.

The good news for all the quarterbacks was that the offense played well for the first time on Monday. They had some nice passes and the running game knocked out some impressive gains on the ground. Of course, there were still a lot of false starts and "young mistakes" as coach Neuheisel put it. You expect that from an inexperienced offensive line, but it is something that needs to be ironed out soon. Still, overall, it is encouraging to read that the offense is making progress.

Another good piece of news is that nobody has been seriously hurt this Spring (knock on wood). There were a few bangs and bruises but nothing serious so far. Glenn Love hurt his hand and left practice to have X-rays. Brian Price went down in practice but said the injury wasn’t serious. Alexsey Lanis missed some practice because of a sore knee. Nick Ekbatani sat out with an ankle injury but is expected back tomorrow.

(photo credit: Daily Bruin)

Monday, April 7, 2008

2009 Recruiting (Part 1)

Last year at this time, the Bruins had seven verbal commits. Not just scrubs either, those commitments came from some dynamic prep players like Rahim Moore, EJ Woods, Damien Holmes and Anthony Dye. This year? Just three. Across town, USC has already snagged ten commits in the 2009 class and that includes one of the best players in the country in quarterback Matt Barkley. So what's the hold-up in Westwood? Well there are a number of reasons.

Part of the delay was that Neuhisel and Chow had to install a new offense for this season. Hot on the heels of that was the start of spring practice and getting this team together to work out the depth chart. Going back to January and February, they had to bust their butts just to keep the 2008 class together. All of that together meant that they couldn't really focus on recruiting the next class. It will take those offensive coaches a while to build up relationships with the 2009 class, but they're already starting to reach out to kids. Once Spring practice is over, I'm sure all the coaches will be out on the recruiting trail in full force.

Here are some of the prospects that UCLA is recruiting for next season. A number of these guys have received offers from the staff and many are rumored to be attending UCLA's spring practice this month.

Cierre Wood (RB) is one of the top prospects in the country at running back. Both Scout and Rivals have him rated #3 at the position and give him 5-stars. He has offers from a lot of big BCS schools like Nebraska, Florida, Notre Dame, and USC. A stellar prep athlete, he racked up over 1,400 yards last year on the ground and 17 rushing touchdowns. Add to that almost 600 receiving yards and another 7 receiving touchdowns and you can see why this kid is so highly coveted. He has a scheduled trip to South Bend this month and we could see him around Westwood this month as well. Wood is playing his prep ball up at Santa Clara High School in Oxnard. Here is a video highlight reel of Woods racking up over 300 yards in one game last season.

Manti Te'o (LB) from Hawii is another highly regarded lineback on UCLA's radar. He is strong, athletic and a force on defense. Checkout some spectacular highlights from his 2006 season where he plays both linebacker, running back, and special teams. A devout member of the LDS church, Te'o is considering a mission before attending college. He is strongly considering BYU, but he also has offers from USC, Notre Dame, Colorado, and Stanford.

Shaquelle Evans (WR) is considered one of the best receivers in the west and UCLA is recruiting him hard. Out of Inglewood high school, Evans was one of the standouts at the B2G Elite Football Program in 2007. He's seen his stock rise considerably this spring and he has already received offers from Notre Dame, USC, Oklahoma, and LSU to name a few. Evans has a quick first step and some pretty good top speed. He could be a good deep threat target for the Bruins. I can see him getting into the rotation early with UCLA's receiving corp losing some of it's top players over the next two seasons.

Tyler Gaffney (RB) out of San Diego Cathedral Catholic racked up 1,399 yards and 20 touchdowns last season to help lead his team to the CIF division III championship. He has a competing offer from Stanford, so you know he is a good student and someone the Bruins will value.

Aaron Murray (QB) attended the first day of practice and the Florida native has UCLA on his short list of schools. He has 52 scholarship offers from pretty much every major BCS program in the country, so it says something that he would fly across the country to meet with the staff.

Josh Nunes (QB) from Upland High School has had UCLA high on his list of colleges for a long time. This prototypical pocket passer is a smart player who has a quick release and makes good decisions. His stock has risen this spring and he has a lot of offers pouring in from the west coast. Nunes has visted Westwood a few times already but it doesn't look like coaches Chow and Neuheisel are going to make a quick decision on a quarterback for this '09 class.

Devon Kennard (DE) is a super-star talent from Arizona who has topped the scouting reports at that position in many of the recruiting services. The Bruins are competing for his services with USC, Texas, and many other top programs across the country. ESPN has a great review of Kennard. They describe him as highly productive and disruptive. He's explosive out of his stance and generates good power coming off the ball.

More to come later...


Intensity was the word used to describe the first full day of pads on Saturday. This from Kevin Pearson at the Press Enterprise:
The Bruins were in pads for the first time today and to say they were flying around hitting one another may be a gross understatement. There is a new sense of urgency and competition around here that I haven't seen in my four previous seasons covering this team.

Rick Neuheisel wasn't kidding when he said the tempo would be a lot faster today than it was on Day 1 of spring practice. There was an immediate quickening of the pace today. Guys were running in between drills, the energy was up, and afterwards, quite a few guys told me they were pretty tired.
This coincides with reports that the team is working out harder with the new strength and conditioning coach Mike Linn. I try not to put too much weight into these types of "bigger, stronger, faster" reports because they come in every season from us fans. But if the beat writers see a dramatic change in pace then I'll put a little more stock into it.

Apparently there were a few fights that broke out during practice as guys were flying around and hitting people. You love to see that kind of scrappy, hard-hitting attitude on your team. Chris Foster had this report from Saturday:
Defensive tackle Brian Price and tight end Logan Paulsen scrapped at each other after the whistle during the first contact drill. Moments later, tackle Brandon Bennett and defensive end Reginald Stokes scuffled following a play, prompting Neuheisel to step in.

"You guys got that much energy, let's put it to some use, start jogging in place," Neuheisel barked. After a handful of up-downs, Neuheisel hollered, "knock that [stuff] off and let's play some football."

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Another DB Commits

The Bruins, and coach Walker, got their 3rd commit of the season late Friday, in Mission Viejo defensive back, Alex Mascarenas. The 5' 10" 175lb junior has been a stand out player since his sophomore season. He has offers from both Arizona schools, Utah, and Colorado.

Over the last few seasons, UCLA has done a great job of building a bit of a pipeline into Mission Viejo high. That's significant because Orange County hadn't been a strong recruiting ground for the Bruins for a long time.

Alex is a great athlete who has excelled in his career at Mission Viejo. he was the only sophomore selected to the Pac-5 Division all-star team two seasons ago. He is also a starter for their baseball team.

(photo credit: LA Times)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Spring Practice Begins

Yesterday was the start of spring practice. It always takes a few days to work out the kinks and with an entirely new offensive staff, it will likely take a bit longer this time around. Still, the promise of a simplified offense and a focus on fundamental football, should pay some dividends over the next few weeks.

The coaching staff is going to have a lot to evaluate this spring. UCLA loses 23 seniors from a team that underachieved last season. Add to that very little depth or experience on the offensive line and coach Neuheisel has an up hill battle ahead of him. The highly rated 2008 recruiting class isn't on campus yet, so the depth chart could change considerably by September.

Here are some online practice reports that give you a fans-eye view of what transpired on day one:

Terrance Austin and Glenn Love received praise from realbruinfan at Bruin Gold:
WR Austin looked good. Austin turned Viney and Norris around in circles a couple of times. Austin looks like he has added some muscle and looks quick.

Glen Love looks the best in shorts of any of our DB's. Love looks like he is 4 inches taller than every DB. Love moves well and has plenty of muscle on him. I wouldn't be surprised if he starts over Ware at free safety.

LB Ayers looks good in shorts. Unfortunately I saw linebackers yelling at him repeatedly for lineing up in the wrong spot. It looks like Ayers is still trying to learn the defense.

DB Viney is a mini corner to put it kindly. Viney is very small. He is quick and covers well but I don't see Norris or Viney holding off Rahim moore for the corner spot opposite Verner.
Love, Craft, and the O-line were the key topics for so_cal23 at Bruin Gold:

Glen Love is going to be a stud, and D Walk totally loves him. He's 6'4 and is fast. Norris was looking better than he had been and was getting praise repeatedly.

OL Mike Harris looks like he will also be good, he's a redshirt freshman and is 6'5 315 or so, and was working with the first team. Adam Heater, who was just recently converted to center had problems with exchanges.

Also Craft looked like the real deal. He is much more athletic than Olson is, and he has a better arm and better accuracy than Cowan. I think he can be very good for us.
Some more about Kevin Craft and Glen Love from Jigs823 at BRO, as well as a note about new WR Taylor Embree:

One Kevin Craft will be a factor in this years QB race. I dont know if he will get it, which i think will ultimately be Ben Olsons to loose, but the coaching staff is definitely giving him an opportunity. Even though no one is "ahead" in the depth chart per say, there was a definite devision as Olson, Cowan, and Craft threw to receivers, and Forcier and Rasshan threw to others way at the other end of the field. Craft has a beautiful arm, it looks pretty, although Ben Olson's deep ball is a think of beauty.

The second thing i noticed it Glenn Love is huge. He, literally stand head and shoulders above the other DB's. I don't know if he is going to stay there or move to LB but i would not want to be the WR running over the middle of the field with him lurking. He is definitely a big kid and the coaching staff was always praising him (Mike Norris was also getting a lot of praise and looked really good; ATV is the veteran of the group, really the coaches leave him alone because he is just that good)

On a small note, Taylor Embree is good. I do not know if he possess the speed to really be a player at UCLA at the WR position, but he runs routes nicely and is a big body. (Ryan Moya seemed to be playing the slot in many formations so i expect him to play the 'Dallas Clark' role)

matsumoto at Bruins Nation had some notes about the running backs along with some details on how the passing game is shaping up:

The running back situation may be okay. Khalil Bell was in gear, catching punts, and looking a lot better than someone coming off a torn ACL 6 months ago. Raymond Carter looks FAST as well; he was out there in the red non-contact jersey but he looked pretty good.

All five QBs were rotating evenly throwing some of Chow's basic routes. He started with the WR screen that USC always loved to run, and of all give, the only one who didn't botch a throw was Cowan. Second was the 7-yard curl, and i'd say Olson threw these the best. All five QBs threw pretty good curls but it's hard to mess that up.

Next they threw slants, and all five were mediocre...great. Chow's offenses love the slant, and so we'll need to get this one right quick. Same can be said for the look-in route (5-yards) as the curls: all give QBs threw pretty well.

Finally the go route: Patrick Cowan was all over the place; short, wide, etc. Chris Forcier and Kevin Craft weren't much better. Craft looked rusty, consistently under throwing the receiver. In all honesty, Ossar Rasshan was throwing the best deep balls, with Ben not being too bad. Then we got into what I'm sure is the first half of Chow's 9-10 passing plays. I saw the USC FB Wheel, and a lot of simple plays that attack the cover-two...good stuff.

Since we're rotating 5 QBs until we learn the offense, the tempo was tremendous today. We would have two formations going at once to speed things up.

I'm expecting big things from Glen Love and it appears that he is already turning heads. We'll see if that continues throughout the spring. It is good to read that Carter and Bell are actively participating in drills and that their recovery from knee surgery hasn't hit any snags. The real tests for them will occur this fall. Of course, with the new offense being installed, I'm anxious to hear any news about how the quarterbacks are looking. Sounds like, from the first day anyways, it's going to take some time for them to settle in, which is not entirely unexpected.

(photo credit: CSTV)

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Tyler Hansbrough's career after basketball (Part II)

After winning the Oscar, Hansbrough decided to try something else. At the age of 30, but still with the baby-soft face of a twelve-year-old, he decided to form his own BOY BAND.

Get that grove on, Tyler.

Not to be confused with Nsync, those guys sucked.

Mo money, mo money!

Followed-up by a short-lived solo carrier.

. . . and a shocking revelation!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Monday Night Football!

It looks like the Tennessee game might be played on Monday Night football. There is talk that the game is being moved up a week from Sept 6th to the prior Monday on Sept 1st (which is labor day). Since the current schedule has Fresno State on August 30th, that game is also likely to move to another slot. The bulldogs have been looking to change that game time anyways, so a Sept 20th bye-week could be a candidate.

I kind of like the move and I kind of don't. It is cool to be on prime-time for Monday night football, the weekend before the NFL starts. Having a high profile game is great for the program and our new image under coach Neuheisel. But, man, we could get killed in that game. The Vols are returning a pretty darn good team and we'll be very young and inexperienced. Maybe we have the element of surprise on our side?

Confirmation on this schedule change came this afternoon.