Spring Practice Update

With so many injuries, it's difficult to keep track who's actually on Spaulding Field, so here's an injury scorecard. Head Coach Karl Dorrell also talks about some standouts this week like C.J. Niusulu and Idris Moss, and the depth at linebacker...

After Saturday's scrimmage, UCLA returned to practice Monday in just shells (shoulder pads and shorts), but then went back to full pads Tuesday.

In full pads, the team went through the Bruin, goal-line drill early, and then had two scrimmages, one exclusively dedicated to running plays and the other to the pass, while also having a couple of seven-on-seven drills mixed in there also.

It's obvious that this staff wants to get its players in game situations as much as possible.

There have been so many injuries, it's a daily chore to review the team for each practice to see who's actually participating. Because there are so many Bruins out with injuries, it's time to re-set the injury table.

Offense:

Junior Taylor, wide receiver – out for spring, recovering from hernia surgery.

Mike McCloskey, center – Still experiencing symptoms of pleurisy, which is an inflammation of the lining of the lungs. He was in shells Monday, but Tuesday then didn't dress. "We have to back off of him, and assess his whole situation. It could be something that's in addition to what we thought. They're going to do a CAT scan. So we'll get a better prognosis on what his status is pretty soon." Head Coach Karl Dorrell said. It was uncertain if McCloskey would be able to participate at all in the remaining two weeks of spring practice, according to Dorrell.

Robert Chai, center – Suffered damage to the ACL in his knee; will undergo surgery, miss the rest of spring practice but is expected to return healthy by fall.

Keith Carter, tight end – Long-running recovery to his hip injuries, suffered in a motorcycle accident a year ago.

Jimmy Stephens, fullback – Suffered a high ankle sprain last week and is out for spring practice.

Manuel White, running back – He's participating in non-contact drills only, still recovering from a fractured shoulder blade.

Defense:

Kevin Harbour, defensive end – Tore his ACL in the first few days of spring practice. He'll undergo surgery (which he might have already done). Most of the time ACL injuries can take up to a year to recover, while the coaching staff is hoping he returns in time to play some of the 2004 season.

Justin Hickman, defensive end – He was held out of practice this week so far due to a sprained left shoulder. X-rays were negative.

Xavier Burgess, linebacker – Not really injured, but suspended from the team indefinitely. In an unrelated incident, his court date has been pushed back to May.

Jarrad Page, safety – Suffered a back contusion playing baseball and was supposed to just miss the first week of spring practice, but is still out.

Nnamdi Ohaeri, cornerback – Still recovering from off-season knee surgery, was thought to participate in some of spring practice, but has yet to make it onto the field.

Milvon James, cornerback – Out with an unspecified injury, but is expected to return.

Others who are practicing but still slowed by injuries are wide receiver Joe Cowan, wide receiver Matt Slater (hip and knee problems), and running back Jason Harrison.

Others who have have sat out practices due to injury so far this spring have been wide receiver Antwuan Smith, offensive tackle Steven Vieira, running back Maurice Drew, and safety Dennis Keyes.

Because of the injuries, other players are getting more reps. With injuries to Junior Taylor and Joe Cowan having sat out a while, Idris Moss was installed as the starting wide receiver this week, and has made the most of the opportunity. Having some dropsies last year in games, Moss now has shown good hands, catching six passes in Saturday's scrimmage and looking good in practice Monday and Tuesday. Dorrell said, "He's had two good days of practice this week. Hoperfully he can keep that up. He's really doing some good things, and his teammates are starting to believe what he can do. He's more confident, he's caught the ball in traffic some, and I think he's thinking that it's not all that bad and he can catch the ball in traffic. That's part of his learning curve. So hopefully he'll continue this trend and be a great surprise for us."

Of course, walk-on Ben Rubenstein, who is 5-11 and 255, has been filling in at center with McCloskey and Chai out. Michael Pitre, who himself was thought to possibly not be able to return to football because of a neck injury, has gotten many reps at fullback backing up Pat Norton with the injury to Stephens. Without Manuel White at tailback, a walk-on, freshman Ben Idemundia, who is 6-0 and 230, is getting reps as the fourth tailback behind Drew, Derrick Williams, and Harrison. Bruce Davis, the redshirt freshman defensive end, has now stepped into the starter's position with Harbour and Hickman out. William Snead is the primary backup at outside linebacker behind Spencer Havner with Burgess not on the team. Eric McNeal has been running with the starters at strong safety without Page. Marcus Cassel has been the starting cornerback so far all spring in the absence of Ohaeri, but Trey Brown and Jebiaus Brown have also gotten quite a few more reps.

Monday, after practice, Dorrell said that the team looked better after reviewing the film of the scrimmage than they actually did in the scrimmage. "It was definitely better on tape than it was in person," he said. "On offense, our protection was better. We had some holes, but the offensive line did some good things. We need to do a better job of staying on schedule with our throwing game, which keeps our protection in good shape. That was better than I thought. There was also a lot more running opportunities than was actually produced. Our backs I'm sure saw some of that on film."

Tuesday, Dorrell said that the team has had two good days of practice since the scrimmage. "We did a lot of work today (Tuesday). We started out well, with the offense doing some good things and then the defense doing some good things. But I think their bodies are getting a little worn and they're looking forward to a day off Wednesday."

No real moves will be made on the depth chart until the end of spring practice. "Not until the end of the spring game. We won't do anything between now and then. To get a chance to have a capsule of how things went, and have a staff discussion on how things stack up leading into the fall."

When asked if some players will be tried in different positions this spring, Dorrell said, "I don't think we'll really go in that direction. We have some young guys that trying to learn one particular spot. So I don't think it's fair to them. You won't see a big trend in doing that. We wanted to do that with Ohaeri, for instance, and he hasn't gotten any reps. There really isn't anyone else who we would move. We have linebackers who play two or three spots."

One of the standouts Tuesday was defensive tackle C.J. Niusulu. "He really had a good practice today," Dorrell said. "He was hard to block on a couple of those running plays and he's been a pretty steady player for us all spring. We feel pretty good about him. He's one of our younger veteran players."

At linebacker, a concern has to be depth, with very little experience behind the two returning starters Justin London and Spencer Havner. "Dan Nelson is coming around. He's playing a couple of positions, and he's doing some good things. We moved Spencer Havner and he's done well at playing the Will linebacker. Wesley Walker is getting more reps right now. He hasn't had any real extensive playing time until this spring, It's different when you play sparingly, like he did, and all of a sudden you're lining up potentially as a starter. There's a lot of football to be seen, and he hasn't seen it all. So, he'll make a mistake or two, but those things happen. But he's getting better. He's starting to react better, and hopefully he'll be better next fall. He has a lot of growing to do in terms of a knowledge standpoint at that position. And some other guys are getting the time they haven't had before. They're getting better, and getting more familiar with what they're doing. We'll determine how things stack up at the end of practice."


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