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Spaulding Roundup: Neuheisel’s Thoughts On Jones/Baca, Hester’s Good Start & Other UCLA Notes

One of the best aspect of UCLA athletics putting up videos of post-practice Q&As is that we no longer have to depend on the local papers as primary source of info when it comes to hearing our head coach and players. When you see and hear the comments from Coach Rick Neuheisel and our players, the difference in tone what they are saying versus what the concern trolls are writing in the papers couldn't become more clear.

Yesterday was probably the most vivid case in point. While the entire UCLA beat reporting contingent were falling all over themselves to thread a gloom and doom mood around practice, Bruins put together a strong front following second day of practice. Here are Coach Rick Neuheisel's comments following second day of practice when he talked about how it all went including addressing questions on Datone's injury and Baca's eligibility issues:

Yeah, not a lot of gloom and doom there. Sure he along with rest of us are bummed about Jones. Yet as he mentioned, it was a freak injury. It happened. We have to get over it at this point and move on. Let's hope Jones has a healthy recovery and doesn't rush back into Spaulding.

It would be great to hear more from both Neuehisel and Chuck Bullough about their thoughts on filling in for Jones. I know, we expressed reservations about "moving" Chandler from DT to DE. However, the more I thought about it, I remember how last year the coaches also moved around Brian Price. One school of thought is that Chandler is such a naturally explosive athlete (with 4.6 speed) it might not be a bad idea to move him around so that the opposing team cannot peg him in one place.

Ultimately it will be about Bullough figuring out to put together his most explosive combination of defensive linemen out there at the same time and rotate them in and out in a way so that they can stay fresh. If Justin Edison emerges as a viable starting option at DT (along with David Carter) and the coaches are putting in Chandler to pack in as much explosive athleticisms as possible in our defensive frontline, it would make a lot of sense. So, let's wait and see a bit how the guys are performing out at Spaulding in the next few days.

In terms of Baca's situation, CRN indicated above that he feels "optimistic" about a "favorable response" from the NCAA. CRN also mentioned that UCLA feels like it has a "compelling case" with the NCAA. So we will see how that situation resolves in the coming days. As for Baca, he is in a "waiting" mode:

"We have an appeal process going, but the tough part is, there's really no timetable on it," Baca said. "We'll see, we'll sit around and wait, and in a couple days, I'll start working with the later groups and getting the other guys some good reps if things don't swing my way. The waiting is the hardest part."

Well, let's hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Without Baca and Harris in the lineup, here is a tentative look at the current depth chart:

Sean Sheller (6-5, 300, Sr.**) Ryan Taylor (6-3, 298, Sr.**) (2 at RG) Kai Maiava (6-1, 298, Jr.**) (12) Eddie Williams (6-1, 329, Sr.) (6) Micah Kia (6-5, 321, Sr.)
Brett Downey (6-7, 302, So.**) Darius Savage (6-4,330, Sr) Greg Capella (6-4, 320, Fr.**) Wade Yandall (6-4, 329, Fr.) Kody Innes (6-4, 279, Fr.)
Jeff Baca (6-4, 305, Jr.)(13) Chris Ward (6-4, 318, Fr.)
Casey Griffiths (6-4, 280, Jr) Mike Harris (6-5, 319, Jr.**) (13)

() game started
** indicates redshirt season
Italic indicates player who are currently suspended or questionable for season opener

Obviously Sheller and Kia are question marks because they are coming back from injuries. However, they are seniors, who have been in Palcic's program for a while. Let's see how they respond in the coming weeks. Note Coach Palcic usually like using a rotation of 8 linemen. I am pretty sure he is not going to burn redshirts of any of our true freshman unless he absolutely has to. So the actual depth chart in his mind and what transpires on practice will most likely be different than what I have thrown up here.As for Harris he sounded contrite following practice yesterday:

"I broke team rules," Harris said after Tuesday's practice. "I know I've been playing for the past three years but I know when I break a rule that the team sets for us, no one can get away with it."

Harris described his offense as being "at the wrong place at the wrong time and that's all I'm really going to get into now."

Harris said he has not been arrested.

"I just want to apologize to this great program, to my coaches," he said.

Micah Kia replaced Harris with the first team Tuesday.

"So I'm just going to continue on and come back from my suspension and help this team succeed because I know this team needs me and I just feel sorry for letting my team down but most of all letting my coaches down because they had a lot of faith in me," Harris said. "I've been starting for the past two years and it's just hard to see someone in my spot."

Not much else to add to that. I imagine he and his team-mates got a clear message that CRN is not going to make any exceptions no matter how badly he needs a player for a particular game. If this was some other program, Harris would either be running laps, or sit out for a quarter before returning to the team.

Moving on to the good stuff, Kevin Prince is continuing to look solid during practice. Here he was talking to Ralph following second day of practice:

Also, looking good per CRN above, was Nick Crissman. Per CRN Crissman is off to a great start this cam. Apparently he has been "feeling good" looking like a "new Nick Crissman." That is very encouraging news. I imagine Crissman has a long way to go in terms of reaching the level of comfort Prince has as a starter. However, after all the injury issues he has been through, if Crissman emerges as a good option at number 2 or number 3 QB in our depth chart, it will be a very positive development for the program.

Besides Crissman, Aaron Hester has been enjoying a pretty good start to his pre-season camp:

This week, he has shown the skills and just-try-to-beat-me attitude that coaches feel can make him an anchor in the secondary.

"I'm just focused on playing football, doing my assignment and playing within the scheme," said Hester, who was limited to two games in 2009. "I'm an aggressive person, so my aggressiveness is going to come out sooner or later.

"I know what I got. I know I'm a big-time player. So if I be myself everything will fall into place."

Neuheisel said, "As long as Aaron stays disciplined, taking the right angles instead of always trying to get an interception, he is going to be a very, very good player."

Hopefully, Aaron is going to pay close attention to his coaches. Always love aggressive athletes, however, the aggression needs to be channeled through team-work, solid fundamentals and most importantly discipline. Otherwise, we are going to get burned just like we did during the five game losing streak this past season.

Lastly, Anthony Jefferson has been sitting out practices because he hasn't been certified through "NCAA clearing house." This is the same issue that kept Brian Price out from practices when he started UCLA. Ultimately the paper works were resolved and he made it into the program. I imagine Jefferson will get in eventually. In any event, he is probably headed towards a redshirt season. It should work out all right.

Practice starts around 3 pm PST today. As always if you are out there would love to see pictures and hear about your thoughts on what you are seeing out there at Spaulding Field.