One interesting aspect of the scrimmage, from a fan's perspective, was the decision to play with the offense coming directly toward the stands & the defense playing with their backs to the fans. Instead of the usual left to right perspective, it was like watching a game from the end zone seats. It often made the line of scrimmage look like an indistinguishable scrum of grinding flesh, but it was cool to watch the linebackers & secondary make their reads as each play developed. It also provided a unique perspective on field goals & punt returns. The way the offense performed both kicker Justin Medlock and punter Chris Kluwe were booming away.
I hesitate to read too much into a scrimmage seven practices into spring. Having seen every practice thus far, I‘ve seen several players have their ups and downs. As expected this early on in spring, the defense pretty much dominated the offense. The offense subsequently struggled to generate much yardage through the air. But sparked by the tremendous talent of an even faster and stronger Maurice Drew, slashing behind a makeshift offensive line, the ground game did manage to grind out some solid yardage.
Obviously UCLA's sputtering offense was a question mark heading into 2004. Frankly the scrimmage yesterday didn't go very far toward alleviating some key question marks. After having a solid spring thus far, Drew Olson had a rough day Saturday. All of the quarterbacks struggled. There were some decent throws and sparkling grabs by BRO favorite wide receiver, Idris Moss, who showed nice quicks and exceptionally strong hands. He caught maybe half a dozen passes, a few of which were poorly thrown. Walk-on wide receiver Andrew Baumgartner (an engineering major no less) laid for a sweet sure-handed snag of a low bullet during goal line drills. Alex Ghebreselassie is muscling up nicely & developing into a talented, though still inconsistent young wide receiver.
Not to make excuses, but some of the offensive struggles were in part attributable to a makeshift OL. Tom Cable, the new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, entered spring concerned about OL depth and his woes have only increased. With his top two centers, Mike McCloskey and Robert Chai, injured, Olson and the rest of the quarterbacks were taking snaps from a game, but undersized walk-on center, Brian Rubenstein. Brian measures in at a very gutty little li5-11 and 255, and was often overmatched by defensive tackle C.J. Nuisulu, Kevin Brown & Co, up the middle. Starting tackles Ed Blanton & Steven Vieira played well yesterday, as did offensive guard Eyoseph Effseaff. But the QBs were often under intense pressure on pass plays & running lanes were seldom available for Drew, Derrick Williams & Jason Harrison, all of whom ran extremely hard. Drew only needs a crease to be gone and with his low center or gravity and leg strength is tremendously difficult to tackle.
It appeared the running game improved in the latter half of the scrimmage when Paul Mociler took some snaps at center. The passing, on the other hand, continuedt to be shaky at best. Several passes were poorly thrown, a few balls were dropped and the passing game was generally ragged. David Koral demonstrated he is an athletic quarterback who moves pretty well, and he has shown steady improvement throughout the early spring. Hopefully the O will work out some kinks in the next few weeks and put on a better show in the official spring scrimmage May 1st. But UCLA's offense has a long way to go. It will be interesting to see how The MO Show looks at full strength with the OL intact, and with Joe Cowan & junior Taylor available and Manuel White back.
UCLA clearly has some fine young talent on defense. Even without projected starters Kevin Harbour & Jarrad Page, who are out because of injuries, the D played consistently well. The young defensive line definitely has some serious ballers in Niusulu, Brown, Junior Lemau'u, and JC transfers defensive ends Justin Hickman & Kyle Morgan. End Bruce Davis is quick & athletic, but needs to continue getting bigger & stronger. Redshirt freshman Noah Sutherland reminds some of a young Ball Brother & could be a future force. Redshirt walk-on sophomore Robert Garcia is a bull at 5-11, maybe 280. With Harbour out with the ACL injury, you have towonder if Don Johnson might shuffle players around to get his best 4 defensive linemen on the field. Junior looks excellent and has played both DE & DT. At this point in camp it has been difficult to tell exactly who the starting four should be. But Johnson has talent if not depth, and many feel Brigham Harwell will contribute as a true freshman in the fall.
The starting linebacker cast of Spencer Havner, Justin London & Wesley Walker is definitely quick & athletic. Each made some nice reads and were generally disruptive Saturday, filling holes & clogging passing lanes. Depth is a serious concern at linebacker, but there is some talent in the wings. Tim Warfield and Ben Lorier are veteran backups, William Snead has terrific size and is still growing & learning. JC transfer Dan Nelson may eventually work into the mix. Aaron Whittington has game, but needs to keep eating and hitting the weights.
At the safety positions, Ben Emanuel, Eric McNeal , Dennis Keyes and Chris Horton have all had great springs & scrimmaged well. It will be interesting to see what impact Nnamdi Ohaeri will have when he returns. Matt Clark and Marcus Cassell are the current starters at cornerback, but some youngsters played well at the scrimmage, including Trey Brown, Jebiaus Brown & Milvon James.
It was also Junior Day Saturday and perhaps 100 recruits were on hand to watch the scrimmage. (and perhaps recognize that there is the chance at early playing time at UCLA). Among those in attendance were Jonathon Hamm, a tall, muscular tight end from Cerritos JC; Long Beach Poly wide receiver DeSean Jackson; the monstrous lineman Morgan Rossberg from Long Beach Jordan; Loyola tailback Trason Bragg; Loyola fullback George Hypolite; Quarterback prospects Karsten Sween and Mark Sanchez; Crenshaw offensive line prospect Aleksey Lanis; and OT/DT Tim Walters of Loyola. The word is that Oak Park defensive back Gavin Ketchum was offered a scholarship. And of course, the big recruiting news of the day was the commitment of Aaron Ware.