Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring Game: Progress?

It was a chilly night out at the Rose Bowl. Not only were the fans a bit cold, but so was the offense; at least when it was running against the first string defense. But as the night progressed, the QBs started heating up, the running game thawed out a bit, and the fans left with some glimmers of hope for the 2009 season.

Let me just say that spring games at the Rose Bowl are awesome. That is one of the many great things that coach Neuheisel has brought to the program since he returned to Westwood. The other thing is getting former players and coaches involved. They were out there last night: Bruce Davis, Terry Donahue, Dick Vermeil, and Jerry Robinson. They were interviewed by Wayne Cook during breaks in the action and even coach Neuheisel was "wired up" and talked to the fans when the players were getting instructions on the next series.

Just like the last scrimmage, the offense came out and immediately got a first down on their first series. Coleman looked solid in those first few plays and the offense was downright nimble. That was the first three plays. After that the offense got pummeled by the defense. Dropped passes, defensive lineman in the backfield, and a running game that was going nowhere. Verner even picked off Prince to end his first drive.

Once the first string defense was on the bench, the tide started to turn. Johnathan Franklin provided one of the first sparks, by getting a nice screen pass from a scrambling Prince. If it were live action and the quarterbacks were allowed to be hit, I'm not sure if Kevin would have got the pass away. But it was still a nice pass and Franklin rambled down the field deep into the red zone. He came back out on another series and put the ball into the end zone for the first score of the evening. Later in the scrimmage he had another big run on a similar screen pass.

Dean and Knox also put together some nice runs. Dean has some power and on one memorable run he ran over a defender at the line of scrimmage; at first I thought it was going to be a short gain, but he managed to stay on his feet and ramble forward for another 10 yards. Knox, again, did his best Mo Drew impression. Bouncing off of guys and exploding through the line.

I'm sorry to say that Raymond Carter was not impressive. I think he only had one or two nice runs. The rest were him scrambling to the outside for a short gain. He had a fumble that was lost and he tends to go down on first contact. I don't think he's ever come back 100% from his knee surgery and I'm pretty sure the freshman backs are going to pass him up on the depth chart.

The quarterbacks got clicking as the night progressed. Prince started completing a number of passes in this spread, multiple receiver set. He had a great pass to Austin on a play where he rolled out to his right. It looked like everyone was covered but he found Austin on a 30 yard pass. Terrance came back to help out his QB and I thought it was a great connection for both players. Brehaut also had some good connections and some quick runs. Like Prince, he really struggled early but he found some success and put together a few good drives.

Kevin Craft just doesn't get it. He comes in for his first play of his first series and makes this ridiculous, ill advised shovel pass toward Presley on a broken play. Instead of just tucking the ball and running for a couple of yards, he makes this pass which had almost no chance of being completed and every chance of being intercepted. He was immediately benched and only came back at the very end of the night.

Besides Austin, the receivers were not very good today. There were a lot of dropped passes. Only at the end, when the 3rd string defense was in there, were guys consistently hanging onto the ball. I don't remember any of the TE making any big plays. Even Presley, who has had a big spring, made some drops and ran some routes wrong. This group, as a whole, really needs to step up. I would say that the best catches of the evening were made by the running backs.

The defense as a whole looked really sharp. Reggie Carter made a huge hit in the middle of the scrimmage that got the crowd oohing and awwing. Brian Price did his usual thing and I think he got two or three sacks. I counted four fumbles that the defense recovered, two of which were forced. The secondary was hawking the ball and absolutely swarming the offense. I'm sure much of that is the familiarity of the defense with the offensive game plan.

There was virtually no special teams play because Frank Gantz Jr. was visiting his ailing father. The only play was a field goal attempt that I believe was partially blocked. The special teams play during scrimmages is always really boring because they don't have live tackling... so I didn't miss it.

It was a fun game and I had a great time. I don't know if I saw anything entirely different from the week prior. I wasn't expecting a whole lot from the offense because so many guys were out with injury. The offensive line will be entirely reformed in the fall with the new guys and Maiva back in the lineup. Prince showed some flashes of being a good QB, but also struggled as a true freshman. A summer to polish up on the play book and work on timing will help these guys and I'm hoping for some big improvements come August.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Practice Adendum.. QB Edition

One additional thing about the practice. On both of Prince's two interceptions, he tried to force the pass. On both plays he was forced out of the pocket (something that happened a lot during the scrimmage). As he rolled out, all of his receivers were well covered. Prince, being a competitor and a freshman, tried to make something out of nothing. Both times, I called out "throw it away" and both times he was picked. That's a lesson he'll learn as he gets more experience under his belt. Love the effort though.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Second Scrimmage of the Spring

So I finally got out to Spaulding field today. I was standing in the south parking lot with a number of other Bruin fans and we had a front-and-center view of the action. It was a tough evening for the offense and probably our best lineman went down with injury. A sign of things to come or merely growing pains for a young team? I sure hope it is the later.

I saw Kevin Prince for the first time tonight and came away impressed. During the warm-ups and 7-7's he definitely had the most "zip" to his passes. His passes got to the receiver fast, were accurate, and he has the best throwing motion of all the guys out there. He can throw the ball down field too as his arm strength is better than any UCLA quarterback in recent memory.

Brehaut looks like he has a lot of potential as well. He isn't as polished as Prince, but I think he can scramble better and is a bit more athletic. He was mainly running with the second team during the scrimmage so it is hard to judge how well he would preform against a tougher defense. But I liked the way he played and he's a real competitor.

Kevin Craft had a tough day. After Prince and Breahaut took the first two series, Craft was given a chance to run the offense. His first throw was picked off. This of course elicited a round of groans from us fans standing on the parking structure. He was immediately yanked from the field but got back out there later in the scrimmage. Right away, his second pass was almost picked off and would have been intercepted if the defender had hung onto the ball. I think Kevin pretty much confirmed that he won't be seeing the field this season.

The passing game was not good today. Not good at all. There were three or four balls batted down. Receivers were dropping passes. The quarterbacks, as a group, were really struggling. Prince, who looked really sharp in the warm-ups and 7-7's, ended up throwing two late interceptions. The pass protection was poor and that surely didn't help. I counted at least 5 sacks.

On the other side was the running game. Which I thought was pretty good. What really impressed me was the three freshman: Knox, Dean, and Franklin.

Franklin, who got reps with the 1st and 2nd string offense, is a quick dude. He cranked out a couple of really nice runs and he looked explosive getting through the holes. He really fights hard for those extra yards and I like him a lot. I think he could see some significant minutes this season.

Dean really showed some of that raw talent that intrigued us fans during his recruitment. He was a tough runner tonight as he bulldozed his way through the line. He carried the team forward during one of his series and punched the ball into the end zone for touch down. It was good to see him get some success on the field.

I finally got to see Knox play in a UCLA uniform. Man, it is hard not to think of Mo Drew when you see him. He looks so much like him. He even runs like Maurice, and he pin-balled out of a pile on one play and bounced it to the outside for a gain instead of a loss. He was tough to bring down, all be it with the 3rd string defense, and he had probably the flashiest runs of the day.

The receivers didn't have too many great plays tonight. Seeing Presely for the first time was fun. That guy is skinny as a rake but you can see that he has huge upside. He was running with the 1st string for much of the practice and had some nice receptions during the 7-on7's. Chris Forcier got out there a bit and even caught a TD pass from Craft; he made a nice move and juked the defender out of his socks. He has great speed and it would be great to see him out on the field in some way. The players must feel the same way as everyone went out of their way to congratulate him after the TD reception.

I have to say I didn't focus much on the defense. They played well, as you would expect. One interesting thing was Andrew Abbott(#26) ended up getting two late interceptions on Prince. I had to go look him up because I didn't recognize his number. He played well today as I think he broke up at least one other play. Maybe he'll see the field this season?

Another interesting play was on a run by Knox. He ran into a pile, bounced around, and ran back a few yards and to his left. He had nothing but open field in the flat and some blockers to guide the way. Knox is a fast dude and I thought for sure he was going to take it to the house. But he was caught from behind, after just a few yards, by Courtney Viney. It was a really nice defensive play.

The biggest news of the day was Kai Maiava getting injured. He went down on a run near the end of the scrimmage. He was in a lot of pain and the trainers came out to check on him. He sat on the ground for a long time, grimacing. He was helped off the field and didn't put any weight on his left foot. It looked like an ankle sprain. Not good.

So, all in all, it was a fun time out at Spaulding. The running game looked better than I expected but I left disappointed about how the quarterbacks played. I'm sure it is a combination of a lot of things, including the defense being familiar with our play book, but this offense still has a long ways to go before the start of the season.

Can't wait for the spring game next Saturday!

OJ and Mark

An interesting, behind the scenes, video of former Trojans Mark Sanchez and O.J. Mayo when they were on campus together.