UCLA football: Bruins labor through the day and prepare for Aztecs
UCLA’s football team closed down training camp Monday night and began its initial preparations for San Diego State. By mid-practice Tuesday the Bruins had to be feeling they had entered boot camp.
After a number of dropped passes, Coach Rick Neuheisel took a drill sergeant tone, barking at receivers, “Come on, we’re UCLA! We’re Division I! We have to make Division I catches!”
Aside from the fact that it’s the Football Bowl Subdivision, Neuheisel seemed to have a point. The number of drops was noticeable throughout drills, leading Neuheisel to once again break out the verbal whip, saying loudly, “We’re not competing. This is so lethargic for guys who say they want to win.”
If Bruin players did not feel urgency before, they did at the end of practice, with the offense doing extra workouts with a kinder and gentler Neuheisel telling them, “This is a day you’ll remember.”
“This is one of those commando days; you've just got to fight through it,” Neuheisel said later. “We’ll reap the rewards from this later on.”
On Sept. 5 against San Diego State would probably be the right time for that and, “we’ve begun to introduce some of San Diego State today,” Neuheisel said.
As for preparing for the Aztecs, that is a little more difficult than usual opponents. San Diego State has a first-year coach, Brady Hoke, who has brought in Al Borges as offensive coordinator and Rocky Long as defensive coordinator.
“Basically, we’re going on things from their past, and a little bit of an educated guess,” Neuheisel said.
That research is made easier since both Borges and Long are former UCLA assistants. Long was defensive coordinator in 1996 and '97. Borges was offensive coordinator from 1996 to 2000.
For Neuheisel, old UCLA tapes were part of the study process.
“They may wax nostalgic at being back in the Rose Bowl,” Neuheisel said.
Other practice notes:
--Tackle Mike Harris worked with the starting offensive line after guard Stanley Hasiak suffered a “stinger” in his shoulder. Harris was put at right tackle and tackle Jeff Baca was moved to left guard, where he played some last season. Hasiak is expected to be back at full strength in a couples days.
--Kicker Kai Forbath, out for the last week with a sore right leg, did a few kicks while warming up but did not in any of the special teams' work. Neuheisel said Forbath should be ready in time for Friday’s scrimmage at the Rose Bowl.
--Wide receiver Morrell Presley was limited to individual drills because of a quadriceps injury.
--While other receivers were struggling early in practice, Jerry Johnson made a handful of receptions. His status has improved considerably in the last week, as he is challenging for a spot in the rotation of five receivers Bruin coaches said they will use.
“He has been a much more efficient pass catcher,” Neuheisel said. “He’s made plays almost daily. He just has to prove he knows what he’s doing. We had a busted play at the end where he forgot he was on the two-receiver side.”
Johnson said he is putting in time after practice and said, “I’ve been focusing more on the playbook and making plays and being consistent. That was a problem before, now it is automatic.”
--Freshman tailback Damien Thigpen continues to get a share of reps with the first team as Bruins coaches look for ways to take advantage of his speed.
It’s been a growing process for Thigpen, who said, “I feel OK when I get the ball in my hands. But I’m still learning the assignment.”
The shifty Thigpen did benefit from one piece of advice from Neuheisel.
“I told him he gets to make one cut at the line, then he has to run,” Neuheisel said. “If he gets into open field, he can make another cut.”
-- Chris Foster
Photo: Damien Thigpen. Photo credit: Don Liebig / UCLA.