Let's follow up the discussion and reflections on our defense by zeroing in on our offense to start the week. As mentioned yesterday the offense has taken some steps forward this year due to a number of factors. Bruce Feldman who was at UCLA practice last Friday was impressed with Bruins' speed. Speed seems to be the major theme in the observations provided by David Carter and Rahim Moore in the following "offensive review":
I thought it was really interesting to hear from David Carter about how we are playing more of a "college" offense instead of a "pro" one which puts defense on its toes. Moore also talked about how offense has also been speeding up the defense through is no-huddle this spring. I'd think that also helps our defense to prepare for teams who feature more up-tempo/spread type of offense in and out of the conference.
It is still unclear though exactly how much further the offense has come along since the end of this past season. Piecing together notes from the roundup and posts from last three weeks jotted down some of the major points concerning our offense. Let's get to them in detail after the jump.
Offensive line: The biggest question mark for this offense heading into this spring was our offensive line. Well Coach Bob Palcic's comments to Jon Gold following the second full scrimmage were pleasantly encouraging:
"This is the best spring we've had since I've been here. I'm pleased with their work ethic - we've had a few more injuries than I would've liked - but I'm happy about the way they're progressing. We're running the ball better. Things are going very well."
Coach Palcic also offered up the following observation on the LT spot (the most glaring spot due to LDS mission taken by XSF):
"It is too early, but I think Sean Sheller is getting back to the form he showed me my first year here. Then he went through that knee reconstruction, and it's taken him this long to finally get back to his original playing form. I'm hoping he continues to progress. Then Micah Kia comes back in the fall, and we have some depth at the position."
Sheller's performance this spring has been pretty welcome development. Initially we though Nik Abele (6-4, 276 RS frosh) was going to gun for the starting position at this spot. Palcic also loves former walkon Brett Downey (6-7, 298, RS Soph) who has been competing for this spot. Yet Abele has been sidelined this spring due to stingers (which is a prudent decision on the part of our staff). He hasn't been practicing as much this spring. So Sheller's emergence has been crucial. Coaches were really counting on him before he went down with his ATV related injury two off-seasons ago. It is great to see him make this comeback (and I am sure the effort on his part will not be lost on kids like Reggie Stokes, Brandon Warner, who will be making to look their own comebacks).
Hasiak's spring: Speaking of comebacks, keeping my fingers crossed here but it sure looks like Stan Hasiak is having himself a very productive spring given where he was months ago. He certainly appears to have made some progress in terms of getting himself adjusted in Westwood and in this football program. You can see him having a good time during the pre-practice warm ups in this video (promoting spring football game).
MaltBaa observed how after the first spring scrimmage, CRN "let Hasiak lead the team" in "a breakdown cheer of some sort." We have also gotten couple of email notes on how Hasiak on at least one occasion played the role of peace-maker when practice skirmishes broke down between the offense and defense. Hasiak knows he just needs to keep working on his game and get along with all of his team-mates. Still these are all encouraging notes
F-Back: We have read a lot about how coaches have been using Damien Thigpen and Morrell Presley at the F-Back ("modified" half-back) position. It will be interesting to see how both of those guys develop at that spot. At least on paper it sounds like a great idea putting them in position with matchup advantages and turn them loose in space. I imagine when Anthony Barr checks in this summer, he is going to get a shot at this spot. From what I have heard, read, and seen (in his highlight reels) seems like his skill-set and size could be the right match for this spot if the coaches try him out on offense first. Throwing Presley, Thigpen and Barr from this spot sounds kind of mouthwatering ... well at least on paper. Chow certainly has few toys to work with now compared to what he had when he first came here couple of years ago.
Cleaning it up: This is a worry. Earlier last year we had lot of issues with center-QB exchanges. I remember the botched snaps especially against San Diego State and Tennessee earlier in the season. Fortunately they didn't cost us then. However, don't think we are going to have that luxury against extremely well coached Kansas State and Stanford squads. Looks like we had issues with snaps in the second scrimmage. Guess we can chalk it up a little bit due to the nagging injury of Kai Maiavia. This is something our QBs and center have to really work on though. Given the challenging schedule we have it is a must we clean up these issues. Last year we also got killed by untimely penalties by Logan Paulsen (sorry to single him out but he burned us few times). We can't afford to repeat the same pattern this season.
Red-zone conversion/Playmakers: Don't have to really add to all the discussions we have had concerning our red zone woes from last two seasons. Kai Forbath is amazing luxury but we need TDs. We need kids like Joe Fauria and Cory Harkey to emerge as dependable options at TE (who will not kill us wit mistakes). Fauria with his sheer size can create mismatches like in this TD catch from scrimmage. Video from scotucla:
We also need Josh Smith (hopefully he is healed up), Nelson Rosario, and Taylor Embree to become consistent playmakers. Embree as mentioned above just makes catches. scotucla grabbed one of those consistent moments from practice:
Now we need those guys to not only make the big grabs, but also get consistent separation from the opposing DBs (didn't get much of it). On the play-making front it would be huge if Ricky Marvray, Randall Carroll and Jerry Johnson can take a step forward. Carroll has had much publicized issues with the dropsies but by all accounts he has been working at it. Like here he almost came up with a spectacular catch (another fun video from scotucla who initially focused on Thigpen but then turned it back on Carroll right on time):
He had his moments in the second spring scrimmage. Johnson (and Mouta) always had the potential but it's a matter of translating that into consistent performance during practices and then carry it over to the game.
The Revolver: Well the big story this spring that traditional media has been having a field day with is the implementation (or I guess I should stay experimentation) of a revolver package in our offense. Don't really have a lot to add to what we have discussed about it here, here and through all the day to day roundups. To me it seems like the players have clearly enjoyed it and it seems to have added a sense of spark and excitement into our offense. I doubt the coaches will get away from the traditional pro-set packages but I can see it being an important part of our offense given the weapons we now have at our disposal.
I also think it could potentially give our coaches a schematic edge given there are at least two other teams in the Pac-10 - Washington and Southern Cal - who run some version of the Norm Chow designed offenses in their respective program. It would give other defenses something extra to think about when they are preparing for UCLA (provided it yields productive results on Saturdays early on this September).
That is about what I have for now on our offense. We still have a week left in practice with the last scrimmage which could provide additional datapoints re. various positional battles. As always, I am interested in hearing the takes from folks who have had the opportunity to take in multiple practices this spring. What other issues we should keep an eye on and anticipate this off-season based on what you have seen during last three weeks in Spaulding. Fire away.