Spaulding Roundup: Defensive Changes, WR Starting Rotation Weirdness & Other UCLA Notes

Jordan Zumwalt is penciled in for his first start as a Bruin (oh and can we get these old jerseys back please?).

Let's start the Humpday roundup with a look at our defense. Apparently Coach Rick Neuheisel (who you will note from the video in this post is not MIA in his scheduled public appearances) has been spending some time working with the defense for the second straight week. He stressed in his comments that it didn't have to do much with "confidence" issue in his defensive coaches, and had more to do with making sure that top receivers who were working out with the scout team (more on that later in the post) were "integrated properly" into the workout.

Either way it's certainly a changeup and the Bruins need some shakeup on defense very badly after giving up almost 1200 yards in their last two games. One of the changes we will see this weekend is Jordan Zumwalt getting his first start at Mike LB. Of course Zumwalt should have gotten the start anyway after coming off a huge game in which he had 6 tackles and a crucial sack (giving the offense a chance to win the game), he is going to be in the lineup by necessity. From the LA Times:

"I'm it right now," Zumwalt said. "There is no one left behind me. I have to step up and make the right plays."

Zumwalt is an aggressive player, showing that with six tackles against Arizona. That included a sack on a third down late in the game, "that gave us a chance to win the game," Neuheisel said.

Where Zumwalt will need to get up to speed is running the defense, though linebackers Sean Westgate and Akeem Ayers will help out.

"Those guys know the defense like the back of their hands," Zumwalt said. Besides, he said, "it is always best to know what you're doing. But once the ball is snapped, if you don't know what you're doing, play fast and cover yourself."

You can check out this week's depth chart courtesy of Brandon Huffman from BruinReportOnline.com. In addition to Zumwalt starting at MLB, it is interesting to see Sheldon Price listed as Aaron Hester's backup. Guess the coaches don't want to rush back Price in (who is back in practice and might be ready to go). Hester is excited to get his starting spot back after losing it couple of weekends ago. His comments to Jon Gold were interesting:

"I did some good things in the first half of the season, and I did some bad things; unfortunately, the bad things gave the coaches a change of heart," Hester said. "It just made me realize how precious football is to me. I know I'm not a second-string caliber guy. I know I deserve to be starting, so I went out there and I proved myself to them." [...]

His time away did not sap his confidence, though, and nor will his temporary move to the bench.

"I want to go to the NFL," Hester said. "I can't go to the NFL being second-string. I want to go to the NFL, and I want to prove that I can be an NFL player, and I have to be on the field to do that. Any opportunities the coaches give me, I'm going to take advantage of it."

I think Hester's comments are fine. Still it's kind of weird to see the guy so zeroed in on his individual goals, when his sole focus should be on making his team better. Hester has a lot of raw athleticism and potential but he has been on the receiving end of number of dumb penalties (although the call against him last weekend was iffy). IMO Hester and the entire defense should prolly keep the talk of going to the NFL to themselves for now and put all of their energy in making sure they don't embarrass the UCLA defense on game days, which has become a common occurrence during this football season.

As mentioned above, Coach Neuheisel made with the media yesterday after what Jon Gold described as a "high-intensity" and "high-quality" practice. Neuheisel talked about a number of issues including having guys like Randall Carroll, Josh Smith and Ricky Marvray work out with the scout team due to attrition issues and wanting to give the defense a taste of speed. He also gave updates no number of injury and personnel related notes:

So I want to zero into the issue re. wide receivers. As CRN noted Carroll, Smith and Marvray worked out with scout team due to few issues. Smith and Marvray are still working their way back through suspensions. The scout team right now needs bodies due to attrition issues. Moreover, having those guys in the scout team gives defense chance to practice with guys with speed given how they are getting ready to face a team headlined by Jacquizz Rodgers.

What concerns me though is that I really hope Rick Neuheisel doesn't let the UCLA offense stagnate with a starting WR rotation of Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree. Here are couple of bullets from ESPNLA's "quick hits":

*Receiver Nelson Rosario returned to practice after sitting out the last two weeks with an ankle sprain. Rosario practiced full speed and said he would be ready to play this weekend. "It's a little sore, but nothing I can't push through, he said. "It didn't really hurt straight line at all, it's just hurt a little bit cutting off of it, but nothing too bad. " [...]

*Receiver Taylor Embree practiced with a red no-contact jersey after suffering a bruised sternum on a punt return against Arizona. Neuheisel said it was precautionary. "We didn't want him to take a hit, but he'll be ready to go," Neuheisel said.

I don't understand how coaches (that includes Neuheisel, Chow and Moore) can justify starting these two guys not only because of their nagging injuries but their total lack of production during this season. Embree and Rosario have not gotten it done. Despite being the primary target, Embree's numbers are less than impressive.

Embree has caught 13 passes for 158 yards all season. He has ZERO TD catches. In contrast despite barely getting any action Randall Carroll already has 7 catches for 141 yards and 1 TD. Josh Smith already has 6 catches and 1 TD while Ricky Marvray has team leading 14 receptions and 2 TDs. I do think Embree and Rosario have roles in our team but they just don't bring the game breaking, play making abilities of Carroll, Marvray, and Smith.

It is up to Chow (he is the "coordinator" of this offense) to ensure he puts together schemes that maximizes the playmaking potential of Carroll, Marvray and Smith to add an explosive element to our offense. We saw some glimpses of it this past weekend but it needs to happen consistently while also not forgetting our running game. We are going to watch our offense very closely this weekend. This is a huge game for Norm Chow to devise a dynamic game plan and put together a balanced performance against a very mediocre Oregon State defense. No excuses.

As for Oregon State, Paul Buker from the Oregonian has an update on Oregon State's various injury related issues and included the following funny note re. UCLA OL courtesy of Beaver DC Mark Banker:

We spoke with defensive coordinator Mark Banker and DTs (and housemates) Brennan Olander and Kevin Frahm after practice about the keys to stopping the UCLA Pistol offense -- which probably won't look too much like the Pistol Nevada runs if you watch Neuheisel's team on Saturday.

Banker, who spent a long time talking to the defense at the team's indoor facility, said UCLA is using the Pistol more as a look these days, max-protecting QB Richard Brehaut, and running its tailbacks wide (Johnathan Franklin is No. 3 in Pac-10 rushing) behind some pulling O-linemen who look like something out of Jurassic Park.

From left to right, UCLA's starters on the offensive line are Micah Kia (6-5, 321), Darius Savage (6-4, 339), Ryan Taylor (6-3, 298), Eddie Williams (6-1, 329) and Mike Harris (6-5, 319). ... tight end Cory Harkey is 6-5, 259 and back-up TE Joseph Fauria is 6-7, 259.

"A lot of bodies in there,'' said Banker, illustrating the problems posed by a team trying to stop the Bruins' run game.

And this weekend we will get Sean Sheller in the mix boosting that OL, which did a solid job of pass protection against a stout Arizona front-7. As mentioned above no excuses if the Bruin offense doesn't get it cranking this weekend at the Rose Bowl. At this point we have talked the issue with our defensive coordinator to death, the spotlight for rest of this season is going to be on Norm Chow. He needs to get it done.

GO BRUINS.

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