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Spaulding Roundup: UCLA’s Defensive Domination, Brehaut’s "Really Good" Day & Other Notes

I haven't done one of these "Spaulding Roundups" in a while, so I am probably going to be rusty. :-) So yesterday the Bruins according to some accounts gave an "uninspired effort" during practice. Predictably this immediately fired off alarm bells in our comment threads and elsewhere in other Bruin online communities, deepening pre-existing dread among those who are deeply concerned about the football season.

Well folks - seriously - again, take a deep breath. Keep in mind, while it is always fun to finally read about football after a long, hot, boring summer of professional baseball, football pre-season camps have never been for the faint of the heart. Traditionally camps - not just for the Bruins - but for every program at college and at pro level has been about a team managing their roster through injuries and daily grind. It is not simply humanly possible for a team to go through an entire practice with total crisp performances from every unit and completely healthy.

I really there is a lot to be anxious about when it comes to our program, but again take an even keeled approach to it. Keep in mind - there are lot of hacks pretending to be as real reporters - who are only looking to whip up the anxiety by blowing up the concern about every single nagging injury or dropped passes. There is also this - if the offense was having one fantastic day after another - that would immediately conjure up the images of those Bruin defenses that show up in the annual highlights during first round of NFL drafts (for other teams' players).

So with that reset, let's read through some practice notes after the jump.

Let's start with Gold's "post-practice update" in which he noted how "good" the defense looks right now for UCLA:

* The defense, particularly the defensive line, really looks good right now, and I don't think it's a product of the offense looking bad. The defense is just playing at a fever pitch right now, and there seems to be a really good dynamic going on between the defensive linemen, as the play doesn't seem to drop between the top eight guys in the rotation. Inoke Breckterfield has really stressed the four-play-of-fury maxim, eliciting isolated bursts of energy from his guys that has been lacking. Donovan Carter looked good today, and he's a guy to keep an eye on. [...]

* Tevin McDonald, Dalton Hilliard and Alex Mascarenas got a lot of time with the first-team defense today, and they shined.

Gold also noted the factor about how it is difficult to make any conclusions about the state of the team just based on some drop passes and defensive stops:

* Something interesting: Because sports is often a zero-sum game - one team wins, one team loses, one play is bad for one side, good for the other - fans and the media in particular tend to rate football plays and practices based on success or lack of success. If a defense makes a stop, they "won." If the offense makes a completion, they "won." But after yesterday's practice didn't look very good on offense, I was surprised to hear Mike Johnson and Rick Neuheisel call it one of the best they've had, despite drops, missed throws, etc. Johnson and I had a great chat after practice today about how different things look on film, and how yesterday was some of the best "execution" that the unit has had, in terms of being in the right place and doing the right thing. I think it's easy to judge just based on if the play works or doesn't work, and it's easy to be critical when it doesn't work, but he really opened my eyes about how the coaches see things a little differently with the benefit of film. I'll keep that in mind.

You have probably already seen Coach Rick Neuheisel's post-practice de-brief here. What was especially interesting from Neuheisel to hear was how he singled out Richard Brehaut for being "really good" on Day 4. Neuheisel mentioned Brehaut looking "really good" in the context of "managing the team" and "knowing what the situation calls for and figuring out how to lead the team." It's certainly encouraging. But just like one shouldn't reach dramatic conclusions - ie "OMGZ! Brehaut shouldn't have played baseball this summer! Waaah! Waaah! Waaah!" - we should check the excitement level just based on one good comment on Brehaut after Day 4 of practice. Yes, we have only had 4 practices to date.

Now Gold above mentioned Mike Johnson's thoughts on practices to date. Peter Yoon from ESPN LA posted this video of the new Bruin OC. Here Johnson is talking about putting in new different packages:

Coach Johnson mentioned next week the Bruins are going to put in "turbo packages" and pick up the tempo. Guess we will have to wait to hear the reports. Johnson specifically referenced taking in a concept from Coach: "Be quick, but don't hurry." Yoon also posted a cool interview with true frosh WR Devin Lucien. [Side note: really appreciate Yoon has been doing for ESPNLA during his time at UCLA. Along with Tracy Pierson (BRO), Robert Kuwada (BRO) and Jon Gold, Yoon are the only reporters who actually look to cover Bruin sports with substance instead of filling it up with snark].

Also, as noted by Coach Neuheisel above - Anthony Barr and Taylor Embree sat out practice yesterday with muscle tightness. Neuheisel didn't seem all that concerned about it. It meant that putting in Jordan James at F-Back slot, which could potentially be really exciting for all of us to check out this Fall. Peter Yoon registered the following reaction from James on this latest development:

It [sitting out of Barr and Embree. - BN] forced Neuheisel to moved redshirt freshman running back Jordon James into the F-back spot, which is a hybrid running back/receiver/tight end spot. James said he had worked a little with the F-backs in spring ball, and was fine with the move.

"It helps the team," James aid. "I'll just do whatever I can to help the team. I'm slowly but surely learning."

I've got a feeling if James starts really excelling at the F-Back spot, Barr, Embree and Thigpen - all of them will magically start feeling better. lol Not to mention, let's hope Embree sitting out gets other WRs to step up in his absence.

Moving on, the kicking game continues to be a question mark for UCLA:

Kip Smith, the redshirt freshman who had been the heir apparent, has had troubles since the spring and there is now an open competition for the job between Smith, punter Jeff Locke and walk-on Joe Roberts, but none of the kickers has proven reliable so far in camp.

Coach Rick Neuheisel is keeping a close eye on the competition, too, spending the early parts of practice the last two days watching over the kickers as they attempt field goals.

"I'm looking for some consistency," Neuheisel said. "We haven't been. That's a concern of mine right now. Kip, we have high hopes for, but he's been anything but consistent to start so we'll just have to keep working him so we're going to try to create some competition there."

Hope Smith and Roberts develop some consistency soon, but as we discussed in our pre-season review posts, if the uncertainty in the kicking game leads to more an aggressive minded approach in the red-zone, may not be a bad thing for the Bruins.

Elsewhere, Jon Gold posted "a crash-course in pistol management," which highlights his conversation with Bruin running game coordinator Jim Mastro. If you have 70-90 seconds to waste an want to be through on your consumption of UCLA related news in tradmed you can look thorough the "coverage" concern trolling of the LA Times and the OC Register.

Bruins get to be in full pads today. Practice gets started at 3 pm PST. If you are out there and you have your own notes, pictures to share, we'd love to read/see them via our fanposts or fanshots. Have fun.