Spaulding Roundup: Guessing at Practice Developments and Depth Charts

Well, if you want to know about the rejuvenation and new-found energy around the U.C.L.A. football program after last Saturday's big win over California, just check out the media buzz surrounding practice yesterday:

(crickets)

Dang, why do I always get the Wednesdays?

Well, with few reports to evaluate, I begin this roundup with an apology for the lack of good insight into Tuesday's practice and preparation for Saturday's contest for the top of the Pac-12 South.  I will just assume that we had a crisp practice yesterday and that many players did some things right, but there were still some mistakes you don't want to see, and that we just have to keep working and keep trying to get better.

Thankfully, Adam Maya (first time that's been said on BN) of the OC Register did have some comments on the Bruins on Tuesday.  He published an updated depth chart for the ASU game yesterday.  It was disheartening, though not surprising, to see Taylor Embree back atop the depth chart at what Maya called receiver but really meant split end, one spot behind behind Nelson Rosario.  I guess the fire from Jerry Rice Jr and company last week wasn't enough to keep Embree from resuming his previous position.  While the receiving corps may not have had big numbers last week against Cal, I am sure that a significant percentage of those nearly 300 yards rushing came courtesy of the efforts of the wideouts making blocks down field.  That's all hustle and desire.  Oh well, as Rick said earlier this week, when referencing the return of the fighting Four, 

"We’re closer to full strength and we’ll go back to how we do things," Neuheisel said.

Yes, we know.  That's exactly what we are afraid of, coach.  

And in more unshocking news, Embree will be fielding punts this Saturday. No word on who might be returning them.

However, Maya did offer a ray of hope in that he listed Devin Lucien as our #3 receiver.  This is encouraging for two reasons.  First, Lucien is redshirting this year and is certainly not #3 on the depth chart ahead of Josh Smith, Randall Carroll, Shaquelle Evans, and Ricky Marvray (all of whom are listed in the depth chart at flanker), so this gives me reason to doubt his report that Embree is back atop the charts.  On the other hand, if this is accurate, I will be excited to see Lucien get on the field, as the youngster showed tons of potential in fall camp.  If I were betting, I'd bet that Maya doesn't know what he is talking about.  Ka-ching!  Of course, that could be because that after last week's performance that he has as much trouble understanding the current depth chart as I do.  

At least one thing made good sense.  Wade Yandall will likely start this week at offensive right guard.  Here's hoping he offends Vontaze Burfict and the rest of the Sun Devils'  the way he did the Bears' defense last week.

There was similarly unexpected news with the depth chart on the defensive side, with Eric Kendricks listed at #2 behind Sean Westgate at the Will LB.  I really appreciate the great insight IE Angel has provided us lately, but we saw the results on the field Saturday, and I'm willing to take a young and raw and Kendricks and his more frequent mistakes over Westgate, who has a great heart and a high football IQ but who is physically outmatched too often.  And even if it costs us a bit now, Kendricks playing now is a great investment for the future.  

In another puzzling decision, Datone Jones, who had great success when he was moved inside to DT last Saturday, saw the new depth chart listing him back outside at DE where he was nearly invisible for the first 7 games of the year.  

Jones is moving back to the end because UCLA will need his speed to defend against Arizona State’s spread offense. But don’t be surprised if the 6-5, 275-pound Jones is back at tackle later this season.

"He looked more comfortable inside than he did outside," Tresey said. "He just seemed to have a knack for playing in that gap."

I can only assume Tresey has trouble recognizing success.  However, Tresey did seem to recognize the spark that redshirt freshman Aramide Olaniyan brought to the defense.

Tresey singled out linebacker/defensive end Aramide Olaniyan as a catalyst. The redshirt freshman saw the most extensive action of his career and brought constant energy, celebrate his teammates’ big plays throughout.

Olaniyan, of course is now listed at #3 in his previous LB spot, instead of anywhere at DE where he had such an effect. However, as starting DT Cassius Marsh earned himself a 2 game suspension at Arizona and will miss this weekend's game, the defense may be more likely to utilize some of the same rotations and substitution patterns that were so successful against the Bears.  Fortunately, Marsh made something good good come from his suspension so far.

Defensive tackle Cassius Marsh and Marvray were honored as UCLA’s "scouts of the week" for their effort in practice last week while serving suspensions.

"That group busted their tails and helped us win," Neuheisel said. "They participated in the victory by the way they practiced. These are tough pills to swallow to lose games. Hopefully the lesson’s been learned." UCLA receivers Shaq EvansTaylor EmbreeRandall Carroll and Marvray return this week from suspensions, while Marsh has to sit out one more game.

As Peter Yoon noted, the Bears converted only 2-12 third downs against the Bruins, by far a season best for the troubled defense.  Despite this, the Bruins 3rd down defense ranking only moved up from #118 to #117 (out of 120).  An improvement of 0.8% is not going to turn any self-respecting corner.  Also, the generosity by Cal's QB Zach Maynard is not likely to be repeated by ASU's QB Brock Osweiler, who is merely #16 in the country in passing yards this season. For reference, Andrew Luck is #18.  Hopefully Tevin McDonald will be randomly, aimlessly, wandering around lost in exactly the right place three times again this week. 

And speaking of Osweiler, that other BN favorite Chris Foster had his always encouraging and supportive words for U.C.L.A. yesterday in the LAT (dang...where did that link go? oh well.) when he recounted Osweiler's game against the Bruins last year.  Osweiler came off the bench to turn a 17-0 deficit into a 55-34 you of our Bruins.  That performance convinced Osweiler to quit sharing his time with the ASU basketball team and focus full time on football, and ASU has been winning ever since.  See? Who says U.C.L.A. isn't producing great quarterbacks?

On a final note, Jeff Locke sat out practice yesterday, but is expected to be ready to play by Saturday.

Well, that's about all I can glean from the smattering of reports last night.  It certainly isn't clear if the coaching staff learned any lessons from last Saturday, but I am hoping for the best while expecting the worst.  We'll keep things updated as the week goes along and look forward to Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

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