Again I don't recall jonesing this much for college football in middle of March in any other basketball season in my time of following UCLA hoops. But the excitement for this year's spring football is pretty evident in all corners of extended Bruin Nation. Well here is another football post to get us ready for spring football.
Karl II flags Ted Miller's interview with CRN which just went up on ESPN's Pac-10 blog. The interview with Neuheisel is interesting as always. It doesn't have a lot of new information in terms of the team dynamics heading into this spring but it does provide a pretty good look into his frame of mind heading into his second season at UCLA.
Among the responses that stuck out to me was his diagonosis on precisely what went wrong this past season:
Rick Neuheisel: I thought our team played hard, but we lacked the proficiency to be a good team. We never got any consistency as an offense. Defensively, we hung in there most games, but we weren't stout enough to be a three-and-out type team. Our kickoff situation put us in a field position deficit because we weren't able to kick the ball off very far. We'd end up having to go long distances with respect to field position. We've got a lot of things to get better at if we're going to be a better football team. But the influx of new, young talent, the great effort in weight room and so forth, I think is going to lead to that.
He lays down the gauntlet challenging Craft to have a consistent spring:
RN: He's got to become a consistent football player and consistent in all respects. Consistent in his decision making. Consistent in his accuracy. We've got to play the position much cleaner. He's got to do that if he's going to be the quarterback.
And als provided the following quick impressions on the QBs who will be challenging Craft this spring:
RN: We have high hopes for [redshirt freshman] Kevin Prince. He is a guy who has the strongest arm and I think has a chance to be a threat to all areas of the field. He's a bright guy, so we'll see how he does. Chris Forcier is a unbelievably talented athlete but he's got to grasp the offense and understand the leadership role of the position if he's going to be a guy we can count on for a regular basis. Richard Brehaut is a freshman we recruited; we'll see if he can handle it. He's sort of starting on Monday and first practice is on Thursday. We'll see if he's ready to go. How he reacts to being submerged will be interesting.
His comments on Forcier is pretty consistent with what he has been saying since he got here. It will be interesting to see what happens with Forcier if he can't break into the top-3 spot after this spring. I wonder if the coaces would consider using him as a slash (QB/WR) like the Steelers have done successfully over the years. As for Craft, I think if he remains as inconsistent and errorprone as he was last season and one of the aformentioned QBs break out, I don't think CRN and Chow will have any problem anointing that guy as the starter this spring, just like last year when they decided to go with Cowan over Olson. Should be interesting.
Meanwhile, CRN singled out few newcomers who might be able to break and get some action due to their raw speed, size and athleticism:
RN: I'm hoping [receiver] Randall Carroll because of the speed he brings to the table. I would say you'd look for [running back] Damien Thigpen to have a chance to participate early, too, because of his raw speed. A guy like [offensive lineman] Xavier Su'a Filo, with the impending church mission, you'd probably like to give him a chance to participate. [Offensive lineman] Stanley Hasiak is probably in that category as well. Defensively, you just wait to see who can blossom. Hopefully, a corner or two can do it -- Marlon Pollard and Sheldon Price are both ready-made looking guys, so hopefully they can give us some much needed depth at corner. We'll wait and see what happens at linebacker and defensive end.
I can't wait to read about the competition between XSF and Chandler this coming summer for the RT spot. Chandler per the latest depth chart is upto 290. I think the experience he will get this spring will be invaluable and the competition he will face with XSF during summer camp will really benefit this team and shore up that position.
On the defensive side, CRN singled out Ayers and Jones as youngsters who could really break through this coming season:
RN: I think [sophomore linebacker] Akeem Ayers, who played a lot last year, is going to become a name who everybody will recognize in the Pac-10. [Sophomore defensive end] Datone Jones, who played last year, I think is another guy who is going to cause some concern with opposing coaches. [Sophomore safety] Rahim Moore is another who played last year. Hopefully, [redshirt freshman] Aaron Hester is up to playing corner opposite Alterraun Verner. He's hugely talented, now it's important that he play like it. I think we are going to be a good defense. How deep we are is a concern. But we have an influx of young talent. If we can be good next year, I think we can be great in coming years.
Interesting to see he is already counting on Hester to make an impact. He must have had very impressive performances in the scout team past season. Along with Hester I can't wait to see Woods getting some action in the backfield as well. Throw in that mix incoming talents like Pollard Neuheisel mentioned above, that should make watching practice exciting. I still expect these guys to go through growing pains for another couple of years, but I think we will see discernible improvements (I am hoping at least) from kids like Moore who should play with lot more confidence this coming season.
Lastly, I will end this amusing response from CRN when he was asked to share a good recruiting story. He shared the following wrt to recruiting Te'o:
RN: With [Hawaii linebacker] Manti Te'o one, we went out there, [defensive coordinator] Chuck Bullough and I, and we leaped off the same cliff -- I don't know if you saw the movie "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," where the guy jumps off the cliff? Chuck and I both leaped off there, right at dusk. With Manti. Because I told him I would do that if I got to be in the hunt at the end. So the next thing you know, we're in the house, and the dad says, 'Yeah, I wouldn't let the team do it because there was this giant sting ray down there.' I go, 'Good to know.' It was a legitimate leap.
In case any of you are lost with that "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" trailer just check out the 1:40 min mark of this trailer. I wonder if Charlie Weiss had to pull the same stunt? lol
Anyway, you can read the whole Q&A here. Just like another CRN and Ben Howland interviews, it's a solid read.