So I left town yesterday to spend couple of days for few meetings in my old neck of the woods. Naturally it made sense to take in a little slice of heaven and check in on these guys:
Apologize for the quality of these shots because they are just not the same as the amazing pictures often shared here by BNers and other Bruin fans who take serious cameras to take in the action. I am lame as I completely forgot to pack my camera.
I should have remembered it because well this was my first spring practice in almost 15 years when some freshman named Cade McNown was getting acclimated to being the entrenched starting QB under a new head coach. Oh well. I tried to grab couple of shots through my blackberry because it was pretty exciting to come back to what felt like home.
In terms of the settings, not much has really changed. The biggest difference I saw were the trees lined along Pauley Pavilion are gone ("Phase 1" of renovation? (j/k)). Also, the ginoromous Ronald Regan Hospital Building really stand out from Spaulding (which of course wasn't around when we were students). Still watching and taking in the practice was a lot of fun on a beautiful and just perfect Westwood afternoon.
I met up with Achilles and Ryan right on campus. Menelaus and Sideout11 then came out and joined us for pretty interesting afternoon of action (well it was interesting to someone like yours truly who doesn't get to take in these practices on a regular basis) out at Spaulding Field.
Guess we were lucky because the team did some live scrimmage for about 25-30 plays to close out the practice session. As always I am always reluctant to form any kind of general impressions leading to expectations heading into Fall during these practices. Nevertheless there were few notes from the day that I think are worth sharing. Let's get to them after the jump.
Bullets on what I saw yesterday afternoon:
- In recent years that standard report from these practices and also from fall ones were how the defense was just dominating the offense. Watching the practice today I got the general impression that the offense was holding its own. It was helped by the fact that Kevin Prince did look as confident and sure footed as number of posts made him sound after the first 4 days. He looks in clear command of this offense. Of course he had few overthrows, but it appeared to me he was executing what the coaches were looking for him. Before anyone gets too encouraged, note Brian Price and Jerzy are not in our DL any more. So I don't really know if our offense is noticeably more confident or if our defense is having a tough time with the absence of Brian Price and Reggie Carter.
- At one point of the practice CRN and Chow specifically spent a lot of time with our QBs and Morrell Pressley and Damien Thigpen. They were trying out those two guys in their respective hybrid roles ("H Back" and "F Back") working with them on the timing of quick tosses and pitches to get them outside in the open space. It was pretty fun watching those reps because well Damien Thigpen is kind of exciting watch (along with Morrell especially when he goes against LBs).
- Jet Ski looked pretty decent as the TB. Saw Milton Knox making some hard run. I thought it was interesting to see Milton Knox making a spectacular over the shoulder grab when sprinting back during a special teams drill on punt coverage. I still think if he ever gets the playbook down he could emerge as a viable perhaps potent dual threat RB. We will have to see I guess.
- I also spent a lot of time watching (while catching up with friends from BN) our WRs. Ricky Marvray seems to have a penchant for making plays. If one practice is any indication I can see why coaches give Taylor Embree his reps during game days. The kid just makes one catch after another after another. He just doesn't drop any passes. That is something that still seems to be bit of an issue for Nelson Rosario. Rosario had his share of solid moments out at Spaulding today but he also had couple of drops that kind of made you groan just a little.
- As for the other guys, it appears to me that Jerry Johnson might have taken a step forward this spring. He was looking pretty decent out there today. Again he clearly seems to have size and frame to be an effective receiver. Moutra still has some ways to go. As for Randall Carroll ... well why don't I start a new ballot.
- Randal Carroll sure is a character. His ridiculous, freakish speed becomes obvious when he catches the ball. The operative word here is "catch." Man the kid had some tough moments out there today but from what I have heard it's been the part of his growing pain. He was really having a tough time also during punt return drills (dropping two straight punts and subsequently doing pushups). What l liked though that despite his drops he kept at it. He then eventually caught a Brehaut pass up the middle and then just rocketed down the sideline for a huge score. What was impressive in that play though was how Aaron Hester stayed with him for almost stride for stride, which was a very good sign for me considering the injury Hester came back from last season.
- Fauria and Cory Harkey are massive TEs. Don't think we have seen that kind of combination of size and athleticism at that spot since the days of Marcedes Lewis. Well it is too much to expect them to be like Marcedes. However, if they can emerge as legit options and more importantly not hurt the team with dumb penalties and mental mistakes that position cost us last year, it would be a plus. BTW Fauria practiced for a while yesterday and then removed for "precautionary reasons" per the LAT (didn't notice him being taken out if action).
- Speaking of Hester, I loved the energy from our DBs. They had few good moments (perhaps feeding of Rahim's persona). I really liked the emotion and energy coming from Marlin Pollard. There was no showboating on his part. Just expression of pure excitement and joy after making solid plays. Stan McKay looks like solid hitter. Also, from practices today it was also clear how coaches are always looking to get a kid like Andrew Abbott in the game. He appears to bust his rear end in every play.
- The coaches were trying out Andrew Abbott as a punt returner along with Randall Carroll. I think I saw Damien Thigpen back there as well (but don't quote me on that). Coaches will have to find a viable option back there if Josh Smith isn't ready. Ideally Carroll would be the guy but he has issues with the dropsies as chronicled above. Hopefully he will get over it soon.
- I mentioned above that Prince looks like the clear cut starter now. Richard Brehaut had an ok day. He did have some decent throws but there were moments when it seemed clear he wasn't as decisive as Prince was when running the O. I also tried to pay attention when Nick Crissman was getting reps. FWIW Nick didn't get to complete any passes (at least the throws I saw). However, his shoulder seemed fine in the throws he attempted while I was paying attention. We really have to admire his dedication and commitment to the program given all the adversity he has faced with his injuries since arriving in Westwood. Hope he keeps at it. Also Clayton Tunney (number 14) seems to have a little zip in his throws.
- I thought it was really cool to see Kevin Craft and ATV stop by the practices. Actually not only did he stop by Craft took in the entire practice like a fan. Also saw Malcolm Jones dropping by the sidelines to take in today's action.
So those are my notes. Over all I really enjoyed the energy and excitement from practices. I actually thought I'd be kind of bored pretty fast watching it. It seemed clear though that the guys were going at it pretty hard and competing pretty fiercely to make plays. Again you should take them with a grain of salt considering I haven't see any of other practices. Incredibly difficult to project how our depth chart is going to shape up or foresee how these reps will turn into rotation this Fall. But hey it gives us something to talk about. Of course if you were there yesterday and want to offer up your thoughts, please fire away.
More importantly though, it was just fun to be out in Westwood and take in Bruin football from Spaulding Field. It is always good to come home. Every time I come back to UCLA I keep wondering the same question: why a D-1 athlete with scholarships offers would even consider going somewhere else? Just like it has always been it was another beautiful and perfect day in Westwood. As I said a little slice of heaven.
I am on my way back to DC today. So will I will see you from other coast later tonight or tomorrow.