This is what we have all been waiting for - the first game week of 2011! This is certainly an interesting time to be a UCLA Football fan - depending on who you ask, the Bruins could end the regular season with a spot in the Pac-12 title game, or finish dead last in the Southern division. This isn't the post to go too far into the whims of talking heads, though. Let's get into Bruin news.
To start things off, Coach Neuheisel plans to announce the starting Quarterback against Houston by tomorrow. Neu has been saying that the competition between Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut has been a close battle, successfully serving to push both young men to compete at their best.
"We’ll know in the next 48 hours," Neuheisel said. "I’ve got great competition going. I’ve got exactly what I want. I hoped that I could drag it out, that there would be competition and both would respond. And it’s worked out exactly as I had hoped."
While Richard has looked pretty good by most accounts of the open practices, my best guess is that Kevin will be named the starter come tomorrow. While they both came into the summer with a shot at the starting spot, Kevin had started the last two seasons as the starter, and could have entered practices with a sense of entitlement from those seasons. It sounds like he had the right mindset heading into this competition.
"I've been taking the first-string reps so maybe you could look at it like that but I never went into camp thinking that it was my job. That implies that it was my job already and clearly it's not. I went into it as an open competition and I'm just going at it and trying to get better every day."
While all the QB's were taking their normal reps in practice on Monday, there was an added twist at the end of practice as they took part in sliding practice - learning a skill that history has shown that our QB's desperately could use.
Brandon Willis was at practice today, though watching from the sideline. While his eligibility for this coming season is still in question, his commitment to UCLA no longer is, with the LA Times reporting that Brandon will be taking the necessary administrative steps to re-enroll at UCLA this week. He briefly shared his thoughts on returning with Chris Foster after practice on Monday.
The quarterbacks were working on a sliding drill after practice with Marques Tuiasosopo using a slip n' slide for assistance. Prince joked that Darius Bell could use some work sliding then had this to say.
"I've learned, thankfully. It's a way to teach us that we have to get down and protect our bodies as quarterbacks. There's only a few of us so we've got to make sure that we stay on the field. I've learned that the hard way."
"I'm planting roots now," Willis said. "This is where I want to be. I want to play. If I have to wait another year, I'll wait at UCLA."
Or as he told Peter Yoon of ESPNLA:
"It’s just where I want to be and what I want to do," Willis said of coming back to UCLA. "Me coming back now is for me, it’s not for anybody else. This is where I want to be. This is where I want to finish out my college career so that’s what it’s going to be."
Peter wrote up an extended post on ESPNLA's UCLA blog on Willis and the outlook for his eligibility for the 2011 season. While a definitive answer from the NCAA is likely several days, if not weeks away, there are some encouraging details coming out of Westwood and Chapel Hill.
Willis already sat out last season because of the transfer rule, and would have needed an NCAA hardship waiver to play this season at North Carolina. The Tar Heels, according to Willis, never filed the waiver request. Had they done so, UCLA would not be able to file another for the same player in the same season, but because they didn't, there is a chance Willis could suit up for the Bruins this season.
If I recall the earlier discussion on Brandon's return, there was some questioning as to whether his enrollment in summer school at UNC had an effect on his ability to come back to UCLA without sitting out another year. Another issue that Yoon noted - one that helps Willis and UCLA - is that UNC never filed their own eligibility waiver with the NCAA after the UCLA > UNC transfer. Had they done so, it seems that the Bruins would be SOL. Instead, he has a fair shot at joining the team this fall. If nothing else, he gets to practice with the team, and compete next fall as a sophomore.
As the title shows, this is game week, and the practices are beginning to better reflect that, from the more substantial changes of implementing the game plan, to details like piping in crowd noise, as Sam Strong (filling in for Jon Gold at the DN) noted. The crowd noise did not help the kickers any, with Kip Smith missing a ~30 yard attempt at the start of practice, and another chip shot later on. Hopefully Kip can pull things together quickly enough, but it is starting to look like Jeff Locke may be seeing even more time on the field this weekend.
In injury news, Taylor Embree was back at practice on Monday and will play on Saturday. Chris Ward was at practice, but did not fully participate, while Jeff Baca was able to run and complete individual drills. This was his first participation in practice since breaking his ankle in the spring, and he is expected to join the rest of the team later in the week, and is expected to play against San Jose State. The Bruins did not make it out of the Rose Bowl last Friday unharmed, as Seali'l Epenesa fractured his elbow during the scrimmage. The fracture is not severe, and he does not expect to miss more than just the Houston game.
We are going to be announcing some community-related news later on today, so please do come log back onto the site this afternoon to see what the fuss is about.