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Spaulding Roundup: Finding The Right Combination

Practice keeps humming along over at Spaulding. Given all the question marks around our offense most of the news is coming from that front and from what I am reading in the papers, it seems like coaches are trying out everything to put together a workable combination in two weeks. The tinkering by the coaches are making our players work harder and also compete more intensely for the starting spot.

I will start with the offensive line, where Bob Palcic is trying out different combinations trying to find out the right mix and also fostering competition among his players. From Foster in the LAT:

The Bruins' first-team line combinations change not only daily, but sometimes within the same practice. Darius Savage was at right guard, with Nate Chandler next to him at tackle Tuesday afternoon. On the next series, guard Sonny Tevaga and tackle Nick Ekbatani replaced them.

"There is nothing set in stone," Palcic said. "I've done it that way my whole career. There is a lot of competition out there. I'm moving guys around so they will know more than one position. It gives me much flexibility."

Palcic said the line has improved considerably since spring practice and the competition has helped during training camp.

"Last season, there was the first team and nobody was going to change that," Tevaga said. "This year is different. Coach Palcic is giving everyone the same opportunity to succeed or mess up. It makes you more focused. You have to think, 'I can't mess up or it will ruin my chances of playing.' "

Still, depth remains a concern. With that in mind, defensive tackle Jess Ward was asked to move to guard.

"Coach [Rick] Neuheisel told me he wanted to see me do a little guard," said Ward, who is recovering from knee surgery. "I played it in high school, so I'm familiar with it and I'm catching on pretty fast."

Note that Jess Ward is still recovering from an off season knee surgery. He is expected to be "involved in contract drills within the next 10 days." Per Dohn’s report he is "looking forward to" this change.

It’s also encouraging from Palcic to hear that the line has improved. He strikes as someone who will not shy away from providing negative/frank assessment of the team. So to hear that the line has "improved" since spring practice is somewhat encouraging. Then again it is all relative considering the state of our OL at the end of last season.

Speaking of competition sounds like Craft and Forcier are involved in a pitch battle:

Craft Taking Command. Photo Credit: dabruins07's photostream (flickr)

According to Dohn Craft "was much more impressive" during yesterday’s morning practice, but Forcier (despite fumbling a snap and a "few bad throws") made few plays (with his scrambling ability):

Forcier holding his own. Photo Credit: dabruins07's photostream (flickr)

Overall, Neuheisel sounded "pleased with the offensive tempo and the way the offense worked" on Tuesday.

A big part of setting this fast tempo involves getting most out our deep (but not necessarily experience) crew of receivers. Dohn has more from WR coach Reggie Moore (also a former Bruin WR) on how he is setting up his rotation:

"You're going to have to have a top three," Moore said. "After that, you're going to have to have what I call a second three, so pretty much five or six guys that need to be game-ready, and the older guys have an advantage because they've been in it.

"My guys are going to have to be physical as blockers. That's part of the deal."

Everett, who has 82 career catches, is the most seasoned of what should be a deep, if not eye-popping, receiving corps. He is also being counted on more than any of the other receivers, and is excited about the prospect of not rotating out every play.

"(Moore) has been stressing to us we have to get in playing shape," Everett said. "In practice, he has us going three or four plays in a row to get us ready for the first game. Mostly, practice-wise the last few years, we go maybe one time every three or four plays, so we were never in there back-to-back plays.

"At the wide receiver position, you've got to be able to get in a rhythm, ou've got to be able to get into a game and make a catch and come back again. It's hard when you go in and out every play to get a rhythm." […]

"The young guys are doing well, too," Moore said, "but right now they're just trying to figure it all out.’

Hopefully Moore will find the right combination on the field. With freshmen like Moutra, Johnson and Rosario Moore will have new talent to blend in. But I would also love to see kids like Gavin Ketchum get a real shot as he was completely shut out last couple of years. Moreover, it sounds like Embree continues to impress:

"He has a natural feel for the game,'' UCLA receivers coach Reggie Moore said. "He's making a play every day, or two or three. He's got great hands, a natural knack for football.''

Elsewhere on offense Aundre Dean is adjusting to a college setting where he finds himself having to compete with other talented backs:

Freshman running back Aundre Dean was one of the coups of UCLA's stellar recruiting class, but he has been somewhat of a bystander in training camp.

"It's kind of hard because we've got like eight running backs, and then I got one rep and messed up on it and never really got back in to fix it," Dean said after Monday's practice.

"It's been a little frustrating because it's hard to get a rhythm going. You're in one play and you're out for seven plays, and then you might go back in for another one. It's different. Not what I expected at all. It's cool. It is what it is."

Dean, who rushed for 2,491 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior at Katy (Tex.) High, was billed as the cream of UCLA's running back-heavy recruiting class.

However, he finds himself behind freshmen Jonathan Franklin, Derrick Coleman and Milton Knox. And they are behind senior Kahlil Bell, redshirt freshman Raymond Carter and junior Chane Moline.

Dean just has to keep at it and not let up:

Dean at Spaulding. Photo Credit: dabruins07's photostream (flickr)

He just needs to go at it with 10 times more intensity the next opportunity he gets to carry the ball. From what we have seen (via video) it looks like he has all the ability in the world. Now it’s a matter of turning up intensity and desire to help him carve a place for him in a talented group of running backs. I am optimistic that he will do just that making the coaches job easier to put together that right combination on the field.