Happy Jackie Robinson Day everyone.
After taking a day off on Wednesday, the Bruins were back at practice yesterday, finishing the session with a 40-play scrimmage. For the first-team offense, at least, the stagnation and slowness that had been evident early in the week had disappeared into an offensive exhibition.
The offense put points on the board early before the defense stiffened. Quarterback Richard Brehaut helped lead his unit to scores on his first three possessions of the scrimmage. He ran two yards for the first score of the day to cap a drive keyed by a 23-yard run by Johnathan Franklin. Brehaut then connected with Nelson Rosario, who made a spectacular one-handed catch in the end zone, on a 30-yard score. Kip Smith booted a 33-yard field goal through the uprights to cap a drive highlighted by a 13-yard run by Derrick Coleman and a 12-yard pass to Morrell Presley. The Bruins came back to score another touchdown on a four-yard run by Coleman.
The complete offensive stats from scrimmage are here. The first-team scored in all four of its possessions, a rare feat in practice let alone in games in recent years, a fact not lost on Bre or Neu:
"That's something we never ever did in a game last year," Brehaut said.
It's something UCLA hadn't been doing in practice, which wasn't lost on Coach Rick Neuheisel."That doesn't happen very often at UCLA since I've been back," Neuheisel said. "We're getting better."
While the starters soared, the second-team offense struggled through the day, failing to score with Brett Hundley completing just 4 of 11 passes, and finishing with negative yards on the ground. After the scrimmage, Neuheisel noted that while Brett does have plenty of work to do - as would be true of any young QB - the struggles of that unit cannot be laid solely at the QBs' feet:
On Hundley: "He's not sure, which is totally understandable for a guy who just got here," Neuheisel said, "but you can't play the position if you're not sure. He's got to work harder."
"We've got to raise offensive linemen here and it's not always a fun job," Neuheisel said. "It's down in the dirt, 'get your face dirty' type of stuff."
The task faced by Hundley and the second-team can only be made more difficult by the depth advantage of the UCLA defense, particularly in the trenches, where talents such as Chandler and Owa have been seeing most of their time in the second-team, while the ranks of the second and scout-team offensive linemen have been thinned due to the 'promotion' of several up the ranks due to injuries among the starters.
The high energy level in this year's practices have been a departure from recent history, and has already pushed and inspired players to raise their game heading toward the 2011 season, as Brehaut was quoted by the Daily News, comparing these spring practices to those of his first two years in Westwood:
"We weren't going full speed, we weren't going as hard as we could go. But these coaches are pushing us further than we thought we could go."
He said he never got that sense in his two previous seasons.
"I don't think there was that sense of urgency that there is now," he said. "That falls on the players, it falls on everybody. We never had that sense of urgency of we have to get this done and we have to get it done right now.
The OC Register built upon the sense of energy and urgency that Coach Johnson has brought to the program. The aggression that he has brought in has not just been limited to the tempo of practice, but encompasses an offensive philosophy that is not afraid to take (calculated) risks.
One injury to note today: Damien Thigpen 'tweaked' his hamstring' during practice, and his status for the rest of spring practice is yet to be determined.
Several former Bruin players were at practice yesterday, not just to spend an afternoon watching the new generation, but to meet up with their old teammate before departing together for Homer Smith's funeral in Alabama.
Quarterbacks Tom Ramsey, Wayne Cook, Matt Stevens, linebacker Frank Stephens, split end David Clinton and defensive back Gifford Irvine were all roaming the sidelines as they waited for Neuheisel to finish.
"We're going to have a great time talking about Homer," Neuheisel said. "It's a great tribute to a guy who meant a lot to many, many people."
The scrimmage was originally set to follow this afternoon's practice, but was rescheduled for Thursday to accommodate Coach Neuheisel's trip to say goodbye to Homer. Coaches Johnson and Tressey will be jointly running today's practice.