Spaulding Roundup: Youth Movement In Bruin Offense

Thigpen (25), Presley (7) & Knox (2), looking to make waves under the senior leadership of Paulsen (86). Photo Credit: E. Corpuz

We will start our roundup today with a little update on our OL. As mentioned in my fanpost yesterday, Stan Hasiak (who is not contemplating a mission) has been sitting out practices last two days with a sore shoulder, allowing coaches to experiment with the starting OL. Per the LAT's report "Jeff Baca, the starting left tackle alternated with Brandon Bennett at right guard with the first team," while "Mike Harris played Baca's tackle spot." Hasiak is supposed to be back today, which will allow coaches to reset to the starting lineup announced after Saturday's scrimmage. Obviously the fate of our season hinges on how these young guys - four of whom were not in UCLA uniform last season - perform this year.

Ted Miller on ESPN's Pac-10 blog made the astute observation that CRN and his staff are going along with a youth movement not because of necessity, but becayse they think "it's the best way to win":

Two things: 1. These guys aren't stiffs; 2. Wonder what these guys will look like in 2011, when quarterback Kevin Prince is a junior?

The two true freshmen on the left side, tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo and guard Stanley Hasiak, certainly pass the sight test and were both among the nation's highest-rated offensive linemen last year. Right guard Eddie Williams is a 331 pound powerhouse from Mt. San Antonio Junior College in Walnut, CA.

Sophomore center Kai Maiava started nine games as a true freshman at Colorado. True sophomore right tackle Jeff Baca started eight games for the Bruins last year.

They are the only two players from the post-spring depth chart who remain No. 1 at their line positions.

While the season-ending knee injury to senior Micah Kia and the sprained knee that will sideline senior Nick Ekbatani four to six weeks certainly aren't good things, neither was a sure-thing to start. Ekbatani was running second-team at center, while Kia was expected to split time with Hasiak.

So starting inexperienced players is not move motivated by necessity. It's a choice.

Now the key will be for the coaches to figure out how they can get some continuity with their key players so they can grow through this season:

"By definition, continuity requires people all being there," Neuheisel said. "You can't have continuity if you don't have everybody learning the steps, learning the dance. You have to spend time with one another, not only so the footwork is choreographed, but the calls and the dummy calls. Those things all take a little while, and we've got to grow with that."

Most importantly, they need to grow together.

There is nothing more frustrating for an offensive line coach than when one lineman lags behind, causing a crack in the wall.

Offensive line coach Bob Palcic must ensure that as freshman Stanley Hasiak improves, so does redshirt sophomore center Kai Maiava. As Maiava improves, so does sophomore Jeff Baca. And so on.

"That's Bob's job," Neuheisel said. "The offensive line coach has to make sure we're all staying on task. If there needs to be extra, there needs to be extra for everybody, so that we're all coming along together. One for all and all for one."

I think the minor setback (well it sounds minor at least according to the reports) of Hasiak's injury could be a silver lining because it is allowing Mike Harris to get familiar with rest of the starting unit. While it is ideal that we can have as much continuity as possible with a new core of starting unit, it doesn't hurt to have the guys behind in the depth chart also gain some familiarity with the starting unit, in case they are called upon during the season.

Speaking of getting called on (and youth movement), the LAT led their report today with a quick profile on Damien Thigpen. Many of you know the story. Thigpen originally committed to Tennessee this past season. However, after they went through their coaching change, he was off their new coaching staff's radar. Here is how Thigpen ended up in Westwood:

"Their plans seemed to be going a different way, so I decide to look around," Thigpen said.

Eldridge Armstrong, the uncle of UCLA linebacker Isaiah Bowens, called Neuheisel and asked whether the Bruins were interested. Armstrong and Doug Thigpen, Damien's father, are secret service agents.

Neuheisel was interested, and now he has a freshman running back who lately has taken turns with the first-team offense.

He certainly has gotten Neuheisel and Chow's attention:

"He has too much lighting in his bottle not to use him," Coach Rick Neuheisel said.

Thigpen's performance in Saturday's scrimmage put him on the fast track for playing time. He returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown and had a kickoff return of 61 yards. He also had 31 yards in seven carries.

"We have to have a plan for him," offensive coordinator Norm Chow said.

I can't wait to see him. However, here is my one thought about burning his redshirt season. I hope if the coaches burn his redshirt situation, they will use him more than just sparingly in special teams situation. It would be awesome if Chow can use his speed to create mismatches around the field.  When I read about this kid I have visions of Dexter Carter (not as a FAIL in Niners uniform but the way he lit up Bobby Bowden's Seminoles offense back in the day).

It sounds like Thigpen is relishing his early experience as a Bruin and eagerly "learning the assigments." Another team-mate of his, who has embraced a new role with the team is Chane Moline. Balderas from the OC Register blogged yesterday about how the former TB is fired up to play FB (and hit LBs) this season:

"It’s a beating. It’s a lot different," Moline said of the fullback position. "As a tailback, you’re running the ball, so you’re obviously going to try to put a beating on the guy that’s trying to tackle you, or avoid him. I’m not a running back that’s going to be juking and jiving. I’m going to put my shoulder down and hit you."

He’ll hit if it means picking up an extra yard or two. He’ll hit to protect his quarterback. He’ll hit to give his teammates some running room. He’ll hit because that’s what fullbacks do.

"As a fullback, you’re hitting linebackers every play you’re in," he said. "That’s the biggest difference. I learned that last year."

Moline got a chance to reacquaint himself with the fullback position when Trevor Theriot hurt his knee prior to the Fresno State game last season. Moline was moved out of the tailback position and back to fullback.

With the depth that the Bruins have at the tailback position this season, it was clear that Moline would not be returning to his previous spot.

"Going into this year, I knew what I was going for," he said. "I bulked up over the offseason."

Moline sat out practice yesterday with a hip-flexor but he should be back today. I have always enjoyed watching this kid play. Again I will bring up a Niners reference (can't help it). But I do have visions of Rathman-Craig with Moline-Coleman/Franklin/Knox in the backfield. Mix in all the speed element with Carroll and Thigpen, and the experiences of Austin, Paulsen, and Moya, well my mouth is watering for some Bruin offense.

It will be up the coaches to mix in the noticable youth movement all over our offense with the veteran experiences of Moline, Austin and Paulsen. If those guys can develop the right chemisrty around a new quarterback  and young but talented OL through the season getting us to a bowl game, it will set us up perfectly heading into CRN's third season.


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