Bruins slogged through another day of practice yesterday. Slogging is the operative word here as it was another long day of practice when players in Coach Rick Neuheisel's words had to "fight through it." As noted by Peter Yoon at ESPNLA:
UCLA officially broke training camp Tuesday night, with players who live off campus moving out of the dorms and the practice plan starting to focus on the Sept. 3 season opener at Houston.
But that doesn't mean things are getting any easier on the field.
For the second consecutive day, the Bruins endured a grueling practice in hot weather. Wednesday's practice included conditioning drills sandwiched between the 11-on-11 drills and the two-minute drill.
Hmm. I checked the weather report for Westwood, CA and it shows yesterday had a high of 78 degrees and low of 66. In contrast out in Houston, the temperature reached a high of 97 and low of 79. Yikes. May be we should move our practice out in the Valley for next few days? (J/K). In all seriousness, I am sure the coaches are drilling into the guys' head how important it is to battle through these dog days right after two+ weeks of camp.
* Not much on the quarterback battle, as both were pretty efficient today. I have noticed how well Kevin Prince is running the play-fake lately, as he's juked all 11 defenders twice in the last two days.
* One thing I'm noticing from the receivers: It appears they're using their hands a lot more this year to catch the ball, as opposed to using the body, and while it has led to a decent amount of drops, they're also "catching" the ball better. Shaq Evans and Josh Smith both had grabs over the middle that looked really fluid, in stride and sharp.
* Kicking woes continue. Kip Smith was off today, badly, and Jeff Locke shanked his attempt at the end of a two-minute drill at the end of practice. Someone's gotta turn it on, or this could be an issue for a while.
* Dalton Hilliard saw a lot of time with the ones today, and Neuheisel said that he and Riley were battling it out of the position. Hilliard missed spring and Riley missed a portion of summer, so the two are pretty even as they both have been working back toward full strength.
Guess the kicking game is going to be an adventure in Houston. I wonder if lot of Kip Smith's issues are simply mental. Perhaps once he makes a 40+ yarder in a game situation, he is going to get in some kind of rhythm. We were just so spoiled by Kai Forbath and Justin Medlock last few years that we never had to worry much about this. Then again as we have discussed in recent weeks, it could be a potential blessing in disguise by increasing the sense of urgency in our offense in the red zone. More after the jump.
We have talked a lot about the ongoing QB competition this week. While the Trojan hack at the OC Register has pathetically tried to blow this up into some kind of negative story, Janis Carr - who appears to be a new reporter at the Bruin beat - has an interesting report today noting that Bruin WRs don't consider the QB competition much of a distraction:
Not having a designated starting quarterback shouldn't be a problem - or an excuse - for the UCLA receivers this season, according to sophomore Ricky Marvray. [...]
"I look at it like this - and I hope the rest of the recivers can look at it like this - it doesn't matter whose back there throwing the ball, we have to make the catch," Marvray said. "I don't care if I gave my grandma some shoulder pads and a helmet and she's out there throwing the ball - whoever is throwing (the ball) it has to get caught.
"We can't have excuses like, 'Oh, one throws this way and the other throws that way and I can't get it.' That's not acceptable. We just have to catch it, no matter who's throwing it."
Senior Taylor Embree agreed, especially since both Prince and Brehaut have plenty of game experience.
"I don't think it's too difficult because we've played with both of them," Embree said. "Both have had game-time experience. They've been here for three years now and we've caught enough passes from both of them to have the experience as how both of them play.
"If anything, it's creating a competition that is forcing both of them to step their game up when it comes to passing."
Agreed on all points with Embree and Marvray. Now let's hope we see more of Janis from the OCR beat.
A big part of camp right now is managing through all injury related personnel issues. Yes, every team is experiencing these kinds of problems all over the country. The key here is how the coaches manage all the nagging injuries and get their two deep depth chart ready for action. From Yoon:
*Offensive lineman Chris Ward was at practice on crutches and in a walking boot a day after leaving practice with sprained ankle. He said it was not a high ankle sprain and that he is day-to-day.
*Receiver Taylor Embree had an MRI on his ailing right calf that showed some fluid behind his knee, but no structural damage. He did some light running Wednesday and said he expects to return at full speed by Monday. "I'm relieved," he said. "I was a little bit worried that it might have been a blood clot or something along those lines. But it's obviously a relief that it's nothing serious." [...]
*Receiver Nelson Rosario sat out of practice because of illness. He later tweeted that he threw up several times during practice.
*Linebacker Isaiah Bowens, who missed the last two days because of a family matter, returned to the field and resumed his duties as second-team middle lineback
Also according to Yoon's notes Cassius Marsh and Kai Maiava got into a "scuffle" but "things cooled quickly." This kind of stuff is not much of surprise this time of camp as noted by Neuheisel. I like the scrappiness and hope it carries over to the Gameday.
As for individual profiles, Gold has a really nice story on Patrick Larimore, the junior middle linebacker, who is looking to make an impact after having his promising sophomore season cut short due to a shoulder injury. Gold describes Larimore as the "heartbeat" of UCLA's defense:
"You think of the best MLBs in the game, and you see guys in similar molds, cut from the same cloth," Lea said. "You see their passion, the way they play, the way they interact with teammates - all those things come together for them. It's a heartbeat. That position, calling fronts, making tight calls, making all those checks - that makes you the heartbeat of the defense."
Well, UCLA has its heartbeat back. And it's getting louder and louder.
Good stuff. On the other side of the ball, Yoon profiles Derrick Coleman, described as "a 6 foot, 240 pound rock" who has become a good fit in the current UCLA offense with his power running game. A sampler:
Coleman was second to Franklin on rushing last season with 487 yards and five touchdowns. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry, often times getting an extra two or three by lowering his head and bowling over an opponent. That he has developed into such a power runner is a surprise to those who saw him early in his career before he had learned how to use his size and strength and labeled him soft.
"I always take stuff like that to heart," Coleman said. "Over the years, I've had my ups and downs, but everybody who is with me, is with me and everybody who isn't, isn't and I'm out here to prove them wrong. The only way I can do that is run hard."
UCLA safety Dietrich Riley found that out the hard way during Saturday's scrimmage. On one drive, Coleman carried five consecutive times, gaining five, seven, nine, 22 and one yards. Twice during that series, Coleman lowered the boom on Riley--no slouch himself in the hard-hitting department--and knocked him backwards for extra yardage.
"It's kind of tough hitting a 250-pound guy four times in a row," Riley said. "He's the guy who definitely gets the short yardage for us."
Coleman and the Bruin running backs should be a huge factor against the Cougars in little more than a week. Chris Foster of the LA Times also got into the theme of talking about our RBs, as he led his usual vanilla UCLA beat report by talking about the Jet Ski. Foster notes how Johnathan Franklin is always talking up his team-mates, who in return are more than appreciative:
"I keep telling [center] Kai Maiava that he is going to win the Rimington Trophy," Franklin said.
The Rimington Trophy is awarded to the nation's top center.
"He doesn't take all the fame," tackle Sean Sheller said of Franklin. "That makes us want to block for him. Sometimes you can get a running back and it's 'me, me, me.' That's not Johnathan."
I think all of our players have that "team first" attitude. It's a testament to the coaching staff. It makes me want to root for these guys any more. On that feel good note, here is a video of a photo montage from recent fall scrimmage that popped up in the UCLA filter today. Enjoy: