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Spaulding Roundup: Confident Defense & Other Practice Notes

<em>Photo Credit: <a href="" target="new">DaBruins19</a></em>
Photo Credit: DaBruins19

We have spent a lot of time talking about the offense this spring which is still in rebuilding mode after years of mediocrity under the previous regime. While the offense is in the process of developing its idenity under Chow and Neuheisel with brand new QB, new RBs (in terms of starting combos), and a line that is still in flux, the defense remains constant out at Spaulding. Adam Maya from the OC Register reports how the defense is running to the ball with an "attitude of violence":

The flip side to UCLA's offensive letdowns this spring has been the defense's beatdowns. New defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough said he has noticed an aura of toughness beginning to permeate among his players.

It was evident in the Bruins' last scrimmage when the first-team offense could not sustain a drive and managed only a field goal the entire session.

"They ran to the ball with an attitude of violence," Bullough said. "They looked like a team."

Bullough, who took over for DeWayne Walker in January, said he has given the defensive unit a motto: "'Don't focus on the opponent right now. We're not playing UCLA,'" he said. "Spring ball is about trying to get better everyday. It's not about next season."

Throughout spring the defense has appeared to be ahead of the offense. Offensive coordinator Norm Chow said that is because it is. Not only is the defense familiar with the offensive play calls — the defense is constantly beating players to their spots — the offense has dealt with several more injuries.

With that, Bullough was hesitant to pronounce the defense better from a year ago.

"That remains to be seen," he said.

What Bulloug has been overseeing is an intense competition in the secondary. Chris Foster from the LAT reports on UCLA's deep and talented defensive backfield:

While answers remain elusive on offense for UCLA, there appear to be some rock-solid certainties on defense.

Nowhere does that seem more evident than in the secondary, where depth and skill flourish at safety. Rahim Moore, who started 12 games last season, and Aaron Ware return at free safety. Strong safety has been a competition between Glenn Love and Tony Dye. E.J. Woods, a free safety, has made inroads at both positions.

Moore and Love are expected to be starters, joining cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Aaron Hester.

"I like to say they've meshed unbelievably well and that's the reason we're not doing very well on offense," Coach Rick Neuheisel said.

The competition has allowed for some mixing and matching, with Dye and Woods getting work at free safety.

"We came into spring with a sense of comfort ability, with everyone having spots," Dye said. "But when [secondary coach Tim] Hundley said everything was open for business, everyone started flying around hitting."

It is going to be fun to watch these guys next season. Towards the end of the seaosn you could Moore, Dye and Love getting more comfortable with the pace of college ball. Now with a whole year of off season conditioning, workouts under their belt they could be roaming around as lethal weapons in our backfield bringing up memories of Turner, Goodwin, Henderson, Darby and the legendary Easely.

Speaking of competition, on the other side of the ball the running back spots remains in flux as coaches are keeping all of their options on table:

UCLA's starting running back is Christian Ramirez, even with a hamstring injury keeping him out of much of spring practice. But with only two practice sessions remaining, there is uncertainty as to who will back him up.

Sophomore Derrick Coleman remains the primary backup, but running backs coach Wayne Moses said Coleman has not yet clinched the backup job.

A week ago, redshirt freshman Johnathan Franklin was the clear No. 3, and was challenging Coleman for carries, but Moses said redshirt freshman Milton Knox and redshirt sophomore Raymond Carter are close on Franklin's heels.

"In Johnathan's defense, he's been really weak and sick and throwing up the last couple of days, so he hasn't been quite the guy we saw the week before," Moses said.

"This week, I've been very pleased with the competition. They've really started to claw and compete and say, `Hey, I really want to help this team."'

The Bruins practice Thursday before heading into Saturday's spring game at the Rose Bowl. Moses said a determination for how the backs stack up behind Ramirez will be made after that.

"We've got some guys that are very, very close," Moses said. "Some guys do things better than other guys. Everybody brings something different to the table. It's just a matter of what we want to eat that day."

I have a feeling Moses is going to keep all of his options on the table well into this Fall camp to keep all of his guys scratching and clawing for spots in the rotation. The competition in turn should benefit the entire team.

Meanwhile, on the injury front we had another OL go down with an ankle sprain yesterday. After losing starter C Maiava to a left ankle sprain, Bruins lost backup center Jake Dean to an ankle injury as well. From the reports it sounds like Jake should be OK but probably not be available rest of this spring. This means JUCO transfer Ryan Taylor from Texas is going to be at the C spot and the coaches will shift around some more at the OL.  Per Dohn first-team left tackle Jeff Baca move ove to right guard Nick Ekbatani may have to take some snaps at center.

All this probably means the defense will probably continue to have the upper hand over our offense this Saturday during the final scrimmage. It is usually the norm in these games as offense usually feature vanilla packages that defenses are well prepared for and have seen numerous times in practice. Still it should be fun to see the boys go at it before the nuclear winter of college football season sets in after the scrimmage this weekend.