Here we go. We will officially start our first game week of the Neuheisel era tomorrow. Right now all we can discern is a sense of calm from our football program. Despite all the issues we have prepped about last few weeks zeroing on problems around our OL and our QBs, there is no sign of panic around the our program. Yes, I am sure the coaches are concerned. But instead of making excuses they are working away to get our players prepared and finding a way to work with what they have in this season. And this all starts with the mindset of Norm Chow on offense. The LA Times today profiles the Bruin OC’s effort to build our team from ground up:
The Chow line forms behind Steve Young, the first quarterback he worked with closely at BYU. He has developed three Heisman Trophy winners -- Ty Detmer, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart -- and his offenses have helped win three national titles.
"He's the type of guy who really tailors what he's doing to his personnel," said Detmer, who won the Heisman at BYU in 1990. "He doesn't force things down your throat."
Gentle spoon-feeding, though, is in progress at UCLA. Losing Cowan and Olson left the Bruins with Craft, who started five games at San Diego State in 2006 and spent last season at Mt. San Antonio College. Craft has struggled in practice and had three passes intercepted during last week's scrimmage.
"We're trying to figure out what Kevin Craft can do, and what the rest of the guys can do," Chow said. "We have to put them in a position where they have a chance to be successful."
In the past, that hasn't taken long. Philip Rivers was the Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year playing for Chow as a freshman at North Carolina State in 2000.
"This is a position that can be so complex. 'If the coverage is this, do that. If they blitz, do this,' " said Rivers, who is now the starter for the San Diego Chargers. "Norm's not like that. It wasn't scientific. It was, 'If the guy's open, throw it to him.' There wasn't any writing down stuff or taking tests. Just draw up a few plays and let's go."
One of the guys who might figure prominently in Chow’s plan is TE Logan Paulsen. Logan has heard all the pre season talk about getting TE involved in the offense before. So while being excited about this coming year, he is also being guarded about his optimism. If anything he has found a silver lining from playing in Dorrell/Norvell’s offense last season: it forced him to focus on pass blocking and running good routes (while the running back was being asked to slam up the middle down after down). Dohn on Paulsen’s "wait and see" approach to 2008:
"That's what it seems like, but it depends on how everything goes," Paulsen said. "It depends who we're playing, depends what is going on with the offensive line. Right now I'm hopeful, but I'm not counting on anything."
The quiet Paulsen, who is a co-captain and adorns the cover of UCLA's media guide, had 27 receptions as a sophomore in 2006 and was supposed to be instrumental last season in then-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell's offense.
Instead, the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Paulsen was rarely thrown to, and did not have more than two receptions in a game.
"I think last year, a big part of the disappointment was I felt like we didn't give everything we had, from the position, for the team," Paulsen said. "This year, I think the opportunity is going to be there for us."
But rather than dwell on his lack of use last season, Paulsen said it actually helped his overall game.
"What I pride myself on is being a complete tight end. That involves blocking, pass-protecting, running good routes," said Paulsen, who has started the last 22 games. "Even when you're not catching the ball, there's a lot of aspects of the game you can work on. I had the opportunity to work on pass protection a lot, so I consider that a positive."
And speaking of pass protection and TEs, Kevin Pearson from the Press Enterprise has write up on Nate Chandler’s transformation from a TE to RT. Pearson posted the following thoughts from CRN on asking Chandler to make the move:
"I had heard so many great things about him when I got here, and he is a gifted-looking guy, and then I watched him in spring practice," Neuheisel said. "While he could have been a really good tight end, he didn't have that natural receiver ability that I had just come from in the National Football League.
"When I talked to (strength coach) Mike Linn about his weight, here was a guy who not only would he be doing our team a favor, but we would be doing him a favor. If he stays healthy and motivated and does the things he is asked to do, he is going to be a guy they are coveting at the next level. I just know it."
Considering the reactions from Palcic and his OL team-mates, seems like Chandler is making an impression (to say the least):
"He has a great future here at UCLA," offensive line coach Bob Palcic said. "He has athleticism, and he will be a real good football player. He just needs more strength and experience, but he will get experience fast.
"I want to believe he is going to perform well. Do I think he is going to be error-free? I don't think I can expect that out of the kid, but I am hoping he can." […]
"Guys on the team talk, and he was one of those guys we thought could be a missing link on that line," center Micah Reed said. "When we heard he was moving to tackle, we were really excited. I thought maybe he was that link in the chain that we needed.
"He is a really violent player. When he comes off the ball, he can put a hurting on somebody."
Violent? lol I am sure lot of Pac-10 DEs and LBs are really happy to hear that. Read rest of Pearson’s article here which talks about how Chandler has been working to put on more weight (he is now up to 275) and embracing his new role in the team.
Chandler’s progression (this off season) is an example of what can happen when a head coach and his coaching staff have the ability to persuade his player about the vision for not just the entire program, but how a kid fits into that big picture puzzle. This is an element I have not seen or heard from Westwood in my 20 years of following our football program.