"Tomorrow is the start of our spring, and we're excited about 2004. Given the learning experience we had from our last season, and the kids we have back, and the winter conditioning program, there is a lot to be built upon from what we did a year ago. It started with our conditioning program when we got back in the winter quarter. Our kids have made some good, positive steps in the right direction. I think we're well ahead of where we were a year ago at this time. That's what happens when you're here for a little while, and have some experience being here. Winter conditioning went really well. Our kids are back and are excited about starting practice tomorrow. There's a lot needs to be proven over the next 15 practices. We have some positions that need to be filled, particularly on the defensive side. We lost six senior defensive linemen, so we're curious to see who's going to step in and be our people on that side of the ball up front. We lose a starting inside linebacker, so we're going to see who can help fill the shoes of a Brandon Chillar. And also we lose a corner who left early for the draft, Matt Ware. That's also a position that's up for grabs. We have a lot of young talent that we think are eager to prove on that side of the bal. My defensive side, we have some huge holes to fill, particularly with our front.
"Offensively, most of our offensive linemen are back. Some of them have had off-season surgeries. From an experience standpoint, those guys are back, and they should be a year better, in being more seasoned in terms of this offense. Their physical development should be much better than it was a year ago. I'm expecting our offensive line to be much better than it was last fall. At tight end, Marcedes Lewis is back, and we're excited for him, with a year more experience. This offense is really built upon a tight end being a cornerstone or showpiece. I'm really looking forward for him to be comfortable with what we're doing. Our backfield, Maurice Drew and Manuel White, we have some good depth, with Jason Harrison. We only lose one back in Akil Harris. So we have pretty solid depth there. Derrick Williams is a freshman who redshirted who will have an opportunity to show what he can do. We feel pretty good about our backfield. Pat Norton is our fullback right now, along with Manuel White playing some fullback, but Norton is our true fullback. Then we have a host of young players that are eager to make a name for themselves at that position. Quarterback Drew Olson will be orchestrating our offense. He's the key component. In any offense, as you know. He, having the experience he had last year, took some beatings and hopefully with more positive play upfront and more productive play in the skill positions, and him being more productive as your quarterback in knowing our system, we expect good things to happen for us in 2004. We have a good, young quarterback coach that I think is an up and coming coach that will build a name for himself and will do a great job developing Drew and David Koral, who is a transfer here, and Brian Callahan, the redshirt sophomore quarterback. At receiver, we have our best back in Craig Bragg. He has two solid years back to back, and now his senior year. We expect a lot of good things from him going into this year. He's done a great job in the off-season program of training himself. We look forward to see what he can do for us, in providing some leadership and experience for our offense. We have Junior Taylor back, and we'll talk about his injury status in a moment. We have Joe Cowan, Idris Moss, Antwuan Smith, Matthew Slater, we have a host of young players who don't have much experience there that will be competing for a job. That's going to be exciting, to see the young players compete for a position.
"Our kickers are back, which we're excited about, Chris Kluwe and Justin Medlock. Both were first-year starters last year and did a good job. We think with that type of experience last year it will help them even more this year. In a nutshell there's a lot to be done and a lot to be proven this spring. We have to develop this talent as quickly as we can. For our players, it's an opportunity for them to establish themselves in our program. It's an exciting time here at UCLA, and I know our kids are excited to get going."
What are the status of the injured players?
"We had some off-season surgeries. Some guys will be ready to do some things and some will not. To start, with Keith Carter. If you remember, a year ago at this time, he was injured in a vehicle accident. He had surgery during the season, his second surgery, to help the mending process with his hip. That second surgery is one that takes a very long time for rehabiliation and recovery. We won't know the prognosis for him and his ability to play until summer time. Needles too say he won't be involved in any drills this spring. We're hopeful of an opportunity for him to get a chance to play again. But we won't know until maybe late May or early June.
"Next was Mike McCloskey, who was our starting center, had surgery for an ankle injury. He has recovered. He has been training. I think we want to bring him along slowly this spring. He will practice. How much he'll practice will be determined as the work load incrases. There will probably be some times when he'll be pretty sore, so we may back him down. As of this time, he's cleared to go, but we're going to be cautious about how much work he does during the course of the spring.
"Manuel White, he's been cleared for all activity except contact. He has a shoulder injury, it's a small bone that doesn't get a lot of blood flow there so it takes a long time to heal. It is healing, but we want to be very careful with it. So we're going to allow him to practice this spring without any contact.
"Steven Vieira, our offensive tackle, had surgery right after the bowl game, for his knee. It was just a clean-up surgery. He will practice, but he's similar to a program like McCloskey. We'll see how much he can tolerate as he goes. We'll watch him carefully. If it does flare up, we'll back him down. But he's cleared to go as much as he can go.
"Junior Taylor has a hernia injury that required surgery. His injury is one of those that takes longer than most typical hernia surgeries. So he will not practice this spring and we hope to have him back in the summer. He's doing rehab right now, they just don't want him to do any quick movement, change of direction, right now.
"Nnamdi Ohaeri had knee surgery, and was the latest to have surgery, having it about a month ago. Right now his status is, if he does anything, it will be toward the end of spring. He's just now starting do running and conditioning, and it will take a little bit of time. So we're hopeful to keep him involved and get him going toward the end of spring, the earliest the last week of spring."
How does Ohaeri being out affect the open starting spot at cornerback?
"What it does is that give a lot of young players a chance to see what they can do. Guys like Jebiaus Brown and Mil'Von James, who played a little bit last year on special teams, they'll all have opportunities to do some things. Joe Garcia is there. We'll have enough people to play. It's just that those young guys we'll get a chance to show what they can do. That's a good thing. That's what spring is for. Who will be left standing when there it's time to play? Hopefully we'll have some guys with that type of mentality this spring."
What's Jebiaus Brown's status?
"He's been cleared medically. It did take a while, his issue that he had, neurologically, that held him back for a long time. He went through a very good off-season and a very good pro timing day, and he hasn't had any symptoms, even though we haven't done any hitting either. We'll see what happens when we put on the pads and start hitting. But right now, he's had a good off-season, and we're curious to see what he can do."
And what's the status of freshman fullback Michael Pitre?
"He has been cleared, but with no contact. He's been in our off-season program, but we really haven't gotten a final ruling on him yet. You'll see him running around, doing some things. He has that neck issue that we want to make sure is well thought out. So we're going to wait and see what we need to do there."
Can someone win a starting position in spring?
"Well, it's a starting point. Can they win them? Yes. Can they sustain them through fall camp? That's the question. There's always something that happens in the spring, if you put yourself in the position to win it, then go into fall camp with competition in mind, and you hang on....If you start fast and finish fast, you win. But if start fast and finish slow, you don't win. You have to hang on. Spring is the starting point of building the depth chart, but it's not set in stone when you go to fall."
Many of the JC guys on the depth chart are at the bottom of their position, having just come to the program. But Kyle Morgan is at the top at defensive end. Why is this?
"If you noticed, he has two guys under him that haven't played a lick for us. That's why. Look at the other side, where Justin Hickman is. Above him is Kevin Harbour, who was a reserve player for us, and Bruce Davis, and we're excited about his abilities to do some things for us. But the other two guys under Morgan redshirted and didn't get any experience at all at end. This is just a starting point. With the JC guys, they haven't played any scheme of what we are offensively or defensively. Until we feel they are capable of executing, they'll get their opportunity to showcase what they can do, and put themselves in the position they need to be."
Why was Nikola Dragovic moved to defensive end?
"He's better suited there. He's undersized for the offensive line. He was recruited as a center, and that would probably be the only position he could play on the offensive line. But even at that position, he'd be undersized. He's about 250 pounds, and we're trying to get more weight on him. His frame doesn't carry much weight, to be honest. That's why we made the switch."
What's the status of Jarrad Page for spring?
"He's ready to go. His mindset is to be with us this spring, to solidify himself at the safety position for spring. He did that last year. I'm encouraging him to play both. Just because that's what he started to do. But he's of the mindset he wants to concentrate on football. He'll make that ultimate decision. That's his arrangement we've made for him. I told him I'd like to have him at least two times a week. In his mind, he wants to be there all four. So we'll work something out."
Are you going to hit more this spring than you did last spring?
"I think so. We're a year more established as a program. The guys have had the experience and understand our program in terms of what we are. And we now can start to see who can play now. We'll scrimmage a bit more this spring than we did last spring. We'll put ourselves in situations, and test ourselves in situations a lot more this spring, just to see where we're at, in developing ourselves as a solid football program. That element will be intensified."
What are you looking for out of Drew Olson this spring?
"Leadership. The biggest thing is leadership and knowledge. But leadership first. You have to command the leadership of our offense. And the second part of that, the knowledge, if he feels comfortable with what he's doing that leadership gets stronger. He's had a very good off-season. He's worked hard, studying film, and doing the necessary things he should be doing on his own. I'll be excited to watch him develop this spring."
Is everyone enrolled?
"Yes. But we do have one issue. I did suspend Xavier Burgess from our football program indefinitely. I did that yesterday. It was a violation of team policy. It wasn't anything from an arrest, or a law-breaking issue. It was with the university and the football program. It's indefinite. And we'll re-evaluate his status as the end of this quarter. Also, as we announced before, Thomas Patton was an academic disqualification, and that was in the winter quarter. He is not enrolled at school. He's going to a JC up north, with the intention to come back and be enrolled next year."
Is the fact that this is Burgess's second transgression, does that weigh more heavily?
"It's case by case. I don't make a lot of decisions based on treating any case the same as another. His is an interesting case. He has a small window to prove that he belongs, that he's willing to do the necessary requirements to stay with our football program. If he's willing to do that, he'll be re-instated."
With the offensive line going to a weak-side and strong-side aligment, and with such little depth at OL, are there positions up for grabs? Who's the strong tackle?
"We still have the same depth issue. There aren't many guys you can move around. From that standpoint, they're pretty much playing their same positions. They're just flip-flopping. The strong tackle is Ed Blanton. We're trying to limit the information they need to know, which will improve their knowledge of what we're doing. That's really the emphasis of why you do strong and weak. There is plenty of competition, but there aren't many people that you can move around to stimulate too much. If you look at the depth chart, there are a lot of positions that are three- and four-deep. But if you look a the offensive line, you see two-deep. That's all you have. I think wthin the two-deep there will be plenty of opportunities to see who is the better player. Sometimes there might be a player in that second team, and we'll say, ‘Why don't you take the first guard rep with the first team?' There will be opportunities to do that. But I don't think you'll see a lot of changing around as you might anticipate."
So, does anyone have the job nailed down on the offensive line?
"No, I don't think so. Tom Cable is looking at them for the first time. He, in his mind, he's going to look at those players objectively and see where they're at, and if they can help us win this year. He has no favorites. He's going in there with a blank slate, so to speak, and to see who are the better players."
Are there any position changes you're looking at for spring?
"We were excited about moving Ohaeri to corner, but he may not even play much corner. We moved Dragovic to d-line. It's a small change, but we flip-flopped Craig Bragg. He was out split end, and he's now our flanker. We don't think that will be a monumental thing. The flanker position requires the most experience. And since he's been a mainstay in our offense, it's a position that does a lot of movement, and a guy that normally gets most of the action, we felt that was the best position for hi. You'll see some line-up changes in the offensive line, but that's about it. Mix and matching people from the first and second team."
Is Joe Tomasello finally set to go?
"Yeah, he had a good quarter last quarter. He's a guy who hasn't had a chance to do anything since he's been here. So we're looking forward to seeing both his fullback ability and longsnapper ability."
At this point, do you look at next season's schedule, and does it affect what you do this spring?
"We do some forecasting in terms of planning. We play Oklahoma State, so we try to gather as much information about them, and Illinois, right now. And our third game is Washington. With the early part of the schedule we try to get an early start on it. You don't make a final decision of what you're going to do in the fall, but you want to get that process going, getting familiar with those teams. But at this point, it doesn't really change our coaching. You have so many players that haven't played one down. You really want to teach. And in doing so you really want to do it at the beginning stages of it, because you want them to have some success, and feel good about it, and see how their talent measures up with some of the older players. I think the spring time is for development, more than anything. We're still a young program, even with our older players. But also incorporating those younger players that didn't have a chance in the fall."
Is Olson going to get hit this spring?
"Yes. We're going to have some live, full-scrimmage type situations where everything is live. So he's going to have to protect himself. I think the defensive line will be licking their chops, finally able to hit a quarterback. They'll be smart. They won't try to kill the guy, but it will be nice to know they can tackle him. That kind of thing. Last year we didn't do this. The quarterbacks weren't live."