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Spaulding Roundup: Getting Healthier & Sharper

We will start today’s roundup from Spaulding with some great news from the injury front. I was very concerned about the report of Carter getting x-rays this week based upon concerns that he might cracked a rib during the Cal game. Well the report came back and Carter and Bruins got some good news. The LA Times reports on Carter and few other Bruins who are getting healed up during this bye week:

Things are looking up for the Bruins in terms of some players who have been nursing injuries.

The X-rays on linebacker Reggie Carter's sore ribs were negative. He practiced Wednesday wearing a red jersey but is expected back at full strength next week.

The prognosis is similar for tackle Jeff Baca (strained hamstring) and tailback Kahlil Bell (ankle). Defensive end Reginald Stokes, who had arthroscopic surgery last week for a torn meniscus in his left knee, is recovering quickly enough to be considered for Oregon State on Nov. 8.

"We got an encouraging report this morning," Neuheisel said. "We might be able to get a few plays out of him."

As the Bruins are getting a little healthier, CRN is putting heavy emphasis on players getting sharper during practices. During last few weeks (especially on the road) Bruins have made a number of unenforced errors. Yesterday, CRN called out the entire team (including the OL and receivers) imploring them to focus harder during practices:

After watching his team struggle through another practice of poor execution similar to what they are doing in games, Neuheisel said that the mistakes that are hampering the Bruins on both sides of the ball should have been eliminated weeks ago and that there had to be some self-reflection by everybody involved.

"Way too many mistakes of things that should be rock solid now," Neuheisel said. "We have to get our guys to understand that this has to be a little bit more important than is being treated.

"Until that happens, we are going to struggle to improve. It has to be more important and we have to find guys that it is more important for. It isn't a knock on anybody, but it's a reality check."

Asked for specifics, Neuheisel declined to throw any players under the bus but said it was a problem across the board and did give an example.

He said that some receivers were running the wrong route repeatedly, even on plays that had been installed for a long time. Several reps later, other players would do the same thing, compounding the problem that he said is both a lack of concentration and a lack of understanding the importance of doing things correctly.

"Guys have to start realizing how important it is that they do the right things," Neuheisel said. "They have to have a come-to-grips meeting with everyone internally that this has to get better or we're not going to get better.

"When you're asking whose fault it is, it's mine, and everyone has to look in the mirror and realize that, myself included."

I thought the note re. WRs was interesting. I know the easy target during last couple of weeks has been Kevin Craft, who at times was throwing the ball where there was no Bruin receiver around. Looking at replays from last week at least during one of the interception it appeared to me an (experienced) receiver wasn’t around where he was supposed to be. So perhaps there is a reason as to why Chow and CRN after all their discussion, deliberation and observations during practices keep coming back to KC.

CRN also received a telling assist from one of the emotional leaders of this team. Here is Dohn:

After practice, injured quarterback Patrick Cowan spoke to only the players in the middle of the practice field to implore the Bruins to heed Neuheisel's advice.

"Patrick had to remind guys how lucky they are to be able to (play)," Neuheisel said. "He's sitting at a vantage point where it's no longer available to him."

Per Chris Foster’s account in the LA Times Cowan “was loud and animated and, according to players, his message was direct.”

It is pretty refreshing to see how some of the veteran leaders of this team has rallied around CRN. PC’s comments were backed up Brigham Harwell in the Press Enterprise who talked about "young guys" in the team having to "stay the course and keep getting focused."

Moreover, Harwell and Cowan’s comments from yesterday’s practices followed Carter’s comments to the press about how he was gutting it out during practices (despite being so hurt that he was having a hard time taking deep breaths) because he couldn’t look CRN and say, “Coach, I can’t go.”

We have thrown around the phrase – “culture change” – around here a lot since CRN has taken over the program. It is not going to happen overnight. However, to me at least we are starting to see lot of signs, that the program is moving towards the right direction.

Speaking of moving, we will end today’s roundup with a note on Walker, who expressed interest in the Washington head coaching position:

"I think the people who know football know what they're looking at," Walker said. "I think they know what it's all about."

The Bruins have played well enough against the pass but, with little help from the offense, rank in the bottom half of the Pac-10 in categories such as scoring and rushing defense.

"I can't control what the [athletic directors] think," Walker said. "But I think if they ask the right people what I'm all about, maybe that will spark some interest."

I see nothing wrong with Walker expressing interest in this position. He believes he is ready:

Walker said he thinks he is ready for a head coaching job.

“If not now, when? I'm not getting any younger,” Walker, 47, said. “I'm three years into being a coordinator. I had a chance to do it one game. If you look at my resume, I've been around some of the best coaches in football.”

And CRN agrees with him:

“Any university would be wise to seek after him and we would support him in any way possible,” Neuheisel said.

I do believe he is going to be a head coach some day at a solid program. IMHO he is still a year or two away.

As I have mentioned before during the toxic and highly charged emotional days of previous head coach, we were very hard on everyone associated with the previous regime. Yet from we have started with a clean slate under CRN and I see no reason for anyone to hold on to any negative feelings towards anyone connected to the previous head coach. From pov this is CRN's staff. It's his team.

I do think under Walker UCLA defense has shown statistical improvements in previous two seasons. However, I think Walker still needs to take another extra step to establish beyond doubt that he is one of the elite defensive coaches in the country. Despite the statistical improvements in previous two seasons, the Bruin defense had serious let down in few games last two seasons [See Oregon (06), Washington State (06), Cal (06), Florida State (06), Utah (07), Washington State (07), Arizona (07)]. This year we have had tough games against BYU, Arizona and tackling issues in early part of the season.  I think the defense has responded well in last few games but I think Walker needs to show that his scheme can consistently shut down the spread/multi-dimensional offenses featuring mobile QBs in today's college football.

I think for Walker to emerge as an elite head coaching candidate he will need to put together a complete season at UCLA which will not include any performance (like the ones mentioned above) that will stick out. If the Bruins put together a great season in next 3-4 years in which the whole team comes together, I have no doubt Walker is going to lot of great options in college football. FWIW I think that would be a very healthy development for our program. Just like it is great to see Jamie Dixon and other Howland assistants doing well in college basketball, it will be great to see UCLA assistants coming out of Neuheisel’s program doing well college football in near future. So on that I am rooting for Walker and I hope the timing for his next move (whenever that is) works out for him. In the meantime, let’s hope our players are playing close attention to the words of CRN and all other veterans in the current program who are imploring our players to focus harder to get sharper during practices.