Once again we have a mixed bag of good news and bad news from spring practice. Let's get the bad ones out of the way. Jon Gold reports that UCLA's offense looked "ice cold" on Thursday:
On a frigid day out in Westwood, reporters shivering during group interviews, the offense went ice cold when installing red-zone and goal-line packages. There were drops and miscommunication and poor throws, and really, it all looked a bit...off. While there were a handful of simply great plays - Richard Brehaut to both Nelson Rosario and Josh Smith on two pretty deep passes over the middle for touchdowns - most of the time the offense was out of sync.
The drops, again, were not by any one player or position, but it also seemed like every target had at least one. Johnathan Franklin and Damien Thigpen dropped consecutive passes out of the backfield shortly after the Brehaut-to-Smith touchdown, and Derrick Coleman had an egregious drop, too.
What else there is to say? The coaches provided their explanation after practice. We have that explanation along with some good news involving a RB after the jump.
New OC Mike Johnson, who is specifically charged with coaching up receivers talks about the drops:
"It's something that we're conscious of," said new offensive coordinator Mike Johnson, who also coaches the receivers. "It's something that we've talked about. Those things can't happen. You have to make the plays that are coming to you and that you are supposed to make. It's as simple as that. Dropped balls can't be something that's a constant."
To try and remedy the problem, receivers are doing extra work before and after practice on the Juggs machines and have spent some time on their own doing drills to help. Taylor Embree, for instance, is catching tennis balls with different colored dots on them. the challenge is to call out the color of the dot as he catches it.
"It forces you to watch it in," Embree said. "Most of our drops, when you watch on tape, we drop the ball when the ball is about to hit our hands and we look away. So you gotta focus on the ball."
Coach Rick Neuheisel said he's trying not to get too discouraged about the drops in spring because the team is learning a new offense with new plays.
If Embree is still having issues with drops in his junior season, we hope UCLA will be looking at other options. He is supposed to be the "sure handed" one after showing signs of promise in his first year. He didn't develop much last year as then WR coach Reggie Moore never seemed to be interested in using his rotation as a way to motivate our guys. If Johnson is ushering in a new era of accountability, we hope he will not wait too long this Fall if regular guys like Embree continue to have issues with fundamentals at the WR spot.
Prince, who began last season as the starter before the knee injury sidelined him after Week 6, has been doing only simple footwork drills and some light passing drills so far this spring, but he said his doctor and UCLA's trainers had given the OK for him to step up to the seven-on-seven drills. Those entail receivers and running backs running routes against defensive backs and linebackers.
"The only thing I shouldn't be doing is sprinting out and scrambling," Prince said. "I think I can limit myself to not doing that. I'll be able to control myself."
Prince said this is as far as he will be able to progress in spring football. The next step would be to run live plays in the full-team drills, but his doctors won't allow that until fall.
But Prince didn't get in any action on Thursday b/c Neuheisel "forgot" he was "available." You can see Neuheisel's full comments here. My thought here is for Prince to take it slow and it's no big deal if Neuheisel is taking his time with this.
Other injury notes from ESPN LA includes the news about Jeff Baca being out at least first month of regular season. He will have 6 screws in his ankle through the entire season. Kai Maiava also sat out Thursday's practice b/c his previous ankle issue was bothering him. He hopes to be back by Saturday's mini scrimmage.
I saved the real good news for the end. It is about Jordan James:
"Jordan James, you're seeing some flashes of what he can bring to us," Neuheisel said.
Those flashes have become more and more common from the shifty 5-foot-11, 193-pound redshirt freshman, who delivers more than just a change of pace from the between-the-tackles, power styles of Derrick Coleman and Malcolm Jones. His hands might be as dangerous as his legs.
The pecking order behind Franklin is wide open and James has emerged in the tailback competition by quickly establishing himself as the team's best backfield receiver, something UCLA seems intent on featuring more of this season.
Neuheisel said he is just as excited about James' potential at the return positions, thus far working him alongside Taylor Embree and Josh Smith. The soft-spoken James, who was assigned to the scout team almost immediately last fall, said he is not competing with his teammates so much as he is with himself in his first real opportunity to earn playing time.
"I'm not putting any pressure on myself," James said. "I just want to show the coaches I'm exciting and that I can make plays, and with my hands as well, catching the ball and doing something with it.
We are all waiting for a consistent spark of excitement in this program Jordan. We have not had a multi dimensional, play making game-breaker since the departure of MJD? Can Jordan be that guy?