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Spaulding Roundup: Two-a-days, Some Catching Comebacks, Some Passing and Kicking Setbacks

And you thought your Mondays were tough.

The Bruins began this week with a pair of practices on Monday, wearing helmets and shoulder pads in the morning and then going full pads in the afternoon.

Monday's two practices featured a bunch of comebacks by players, particularly some on the receiving unit who had struggled at times last week.  The receivers had some tough moments last week, but were making up for things today. 

First was the return of F-back Anthony Barr from a strained hamstring.  He made his way back into form quickly with a great catch on a post route from Kevin Prince, and added several other nice catches and runs today. 

Next up was Josh Smith, who was sat down in practice last week after a mental mistake and two drops.  He got the message, making a pair of nice athletic catches, and throwing a TD on a reverse in the morning session.  From the LAT

"What I needed to do was to show I could have a rough day and put it behind me the next day."

Nelson Rosario also made a nice diving catch of a ball from Richard Brehaut and Ricky Marvray also had a strong day.  Devin Lucien continues to impress and make a push for playing time as a true freshman.   Overall, the receivers unit really seemed to step up their game and intensity today.  And that is a welcome response to a concerning effort at the end of last week.

"Our performance [last week] was just a little bit unacceptable," sophomore receiver Ricky Marvray said. "You can’t drop 27 balls in a matter of a few days. They were on us in meetings. A little fear goes a long way. Since then we have improved dramatically." 

It's a very good sign that the players are taking responsiblity for sub-standard play and working to correct it.  It shows a new level of accountability and maturity that may have been lacking from last year's team which seemed to repeat the same mistakes.  Perhaps the attitude and confidence that OC Mike Johnson brings has something to do with that.

Another welcome comeback-in-progress today was seeing OL Jeff Baca running sprints on the sidelines. Though he is still projected to be out until after the Oregon State game, he is ahead of schedule at this point.  Ah, it's hard to beat youth as a factor in healing.  Meanwhile, the surprising emergence of Greg Capella and the addition of Albert Cid at the guard position have given reason to hope that the line will be serviceable until Baca's return, which will then provide a significant boost.

Finally, S Dietrich Riley, TE Joseph Fauria, WR Jerry Johnson, and QB Nick Crissman all had comebacks of their own today by returning to practice after a mini-epidemic of food poisoning sidelined them over the weekend.

But there were some setbacks in the first half of the day, too.  More after the jump.

Neuheisel commented that neither QB looked very sharp on Monday morning.

"The quarterback position did not play well this morning," Neuheisel said. "We got to learn how to relax when pressure is coming. We’ll get there. We can be better than we were today."

While it's not surprising that the trogan times highlighted QB issues (i.e. concern trolling), this came from the same writer who complimented the receivers.  I guess no one was throwing those footballs to them.  Well, perhaps it was the Jugs machine?  And we know how demanding Neu is of the QB's, and this comment wasn't far from others we have read from pre-season camp.  So having an off morning shouldn't be cause for alarm right now.  Fortunately, things improved in the afternoon practice, particularly with Brehaut.  From Gold:

UCLA responded pretty well to a poor throwing morning with a decent afternoon practice.

Brehaut had a better afternoon than Kevin Prince, throwing for two touchdowns in a short scrimmage.

Peter Yoon of ESPN-LA also noted that Brehaut looked good in the afternoon scrimmage with a nice breakdown of their respective drives.

The Bruins finished practice Monday afternoon with a live red-zone scrimmage and Brehaut, leading the second team offense against the second-team defense, directed two touchdown drives on two series. Prince, at the helm of the first-team offense against the first team defense for two series, went three and out both times in a drill in which the offense began with a first and 10 at the defense's 25 yard line.

"Richard was better today," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "He’s kind of understanding what we’re asking him to do and he’s getting the ball and he’s throwing it accurately."

Brehaut completed three of four passes for 37 yards and touchdowns of 12 and 20 yards--both to fall camp standout receiver Shaquelle Evans. Prince was 0-3 and the first team offense gained -3 yards in six plays, thanks in large part to a phenomenal defensive performance by defensive end Datone Jones.

Good to see Datone doing his best Brian Price impression by destroying an offense.  I know quarterback controversy is a dirty word (well, two words), but I am glad to see Brehaut stepping up and making plays and pushing Prince.  While Prince has reportedly had the edge in camp so far, the competition between the two will simply push both to greater levels.  Besides, we can certainly stand to have two competent quarterbacks ready to go on September 3.

The kickers had another bit of a setback today again, accompanied by more concern trolling from the LAT, calling the kicking game "chaos".   While heir apparent Kip Smith has struggled to assume the reins on FG's and PAT's, and both he and walk-on Joe Roberts had difficulty with kickoffs today, there is a silver lining.  I commented last week that it is fine with me if the offense doesn't have that crutch to lean against everytime we cross the opponents' 33 yard line.  Meanwhile, Gold noted that Smith got some encouraging words from a pair of former Bruin greats.

He [Smith] had a chat with Justin Medlock and with Christian Yount this weekend, and both imparted some words of wisdom. Medlock told him about his attempt in college being a miss and feeling awful. Smith had a decent day today, and I think he'll start to stabilize pretty soon.

While Smith may not yet be money (and death and taxes) the way Kai Forbath and Medlock have been for us the last few years, he is still a number one recruit who is assuming the starting role for the first time.  There may be some bumps early on, but I agree with Gold's thought that he will be fine.

Overall, there were a lot of good things between the two practices on Monday.  Let's hope the resilience and character the receiving corps showed yesterday sticks, and carries over to Prince and our kickers.

The Bruins get back into it tomorrow with one practice in the afternoon from 3:00-5:15 p.m.  As always if you are out near Westwood, please check out the practice sessions and then come back and share your impressions, notes ... and of course we love pictures.