First Practice of Fall

The 2004 edition of the UCLA Bruins football team practiced for the first time this fall on Wednesday. The offense definitely looks "more on the same page," with the skill position guys looking in mid-season form...

UCLA began the 2004 football campaign with its first practice of the season this afternoon at Spaulding Field on UCLA's campus.

The first thing noticeable was the team practicing in last year's old game jerseys.

The second most noticeable thing was Tab Perry, the former starting wide receiver who is trying to get re-instated to school, in the stands watching practice. Perry said that UCLA is just waiting on his transcripts from San Jose State and his summer school classes. He said he anticipated that he could be at practice by the end of the week.

Also, sophomore cornerback Joe Garcia did not suit up. He said he is academically ineligible for the time being, waiting to get a grade from last spring quarter changed after some supplemental course work. He also expected to be back to practice soon.

The team, as it always does for its first practice of the fall, looked rusty. The new freshmen mostly looked very skinny, particularly wide receivers Brandon Breazell and Ryan Graves and defensive back Rodney Van. Easily, from just a physical eye-balling, offensive guard Shannon Tevaga looks to be the most ready to play. Defensive end Brigham Harwell is probably 6-1.

As was expected, the first-string offensive line consisted of Paul Mociler at strongside tackle, Steven Vieira at strongside guard, Mike McCloskey at center, Eyoseph Efseaff at weakside guard and Ed Blanton at weakside tackle. The line looked comfortable in their new roles, still learning how to get lined up correctly for strong and weak sides on every snap.

The first string line was impressive, for a first day, against the first-string defensive line, in holding off the rush in the seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 short scrimmages. Ed Blanton looked particularly tough to circumvent.

The second-string offensive line saw Jamaal Rhodes at weakside tackle, Robert Cleary at weakside guard, Robert Chai at center, Shannon Tevaga at strongside guard and Brian Abraham at strongside tackle.

Of course, this was just the first day and none of this is set in stone. You can expect the offensive line-up to change quite a bit, at least in the second-string.

The starting defensive line consisted of C.J. Niusulu and Kevin Brown inside at defensive tackle, with Kyle Morgan and Justin Hickman manning the defensive end spots. Morgan had a good burst off the ball in the 11-on-11 drill.

Wesley Walker was with the starting linebackers, but Aaron Whittington rotated in with the starters. Whittington still looks pretty thin.

In the defensive backfield, Marcus Cassel lined up at the open starting cornerback position, with Nnamdi Ohaeri rotating in.

On the first play in the first seven-on-seven, middle linebacker Justin London knocked down a pass and was a half-step away from an interception. His linebacking counterpart, Spencer Havner later stepped in front of a Brian Callahan pass for a pick.

Jebiaus Brown had a very good break-up of a deep post thrown to Matt Slater.

Of course, early in fall practice, the defense is always ahead of the offense, and it showed in the scrimmages, with the offense unable to complete many passes against a defense that likes to fly around.

The easy standouts for the first day offensively were the experienced skill position guys – Craig Bragg, Manuel White, Maurice Drew and particularly Marcedes Lewis. All looked in great shape, a step quicker and in mid-season form. Lewis particularly looked impressive, appearing more polished, sure of himself and sure-handed. The running backs behind White and Drew – Jason Harrison, Derrick Williams and freshman Chris Markey -- all looked quick in the drills and the scrimmages. Markey might not be his listed 5-11 and 195, more probably about 5-10ish, but he had good explosion through the line. They all do, though, look small, without one of them probably bigger than 5-10.

It wasn't generally a good day for the quarterbacks when it came to actually throwing the ball, but it seldom is on the first practice of fall. Drew Olson and back-up David Koral, though, looked particularly self-assured in knowing what they were doing. There was very little hesitation and execution was good. The throws, like with any first day, were a bit ragged. There weren't too many spirals spinning off the hands of the quarterbacks. Freshman Patrick Cowan will have to hone his mechanics.

Olson, while throwing some fluttering balls, appeared very poised and knowledgeable about his assignments, far moreso than a year ago.

The offense practiced quite a few rollout drills, with the quarterbacks throwing to their running backs and tight ends, and hitting their receivers on quick hitches. In other words, there looked to be more of the kind of plays that the West Coast Offense is known to feature.

The top rotation for the receivers consisted of Craig Bragg, Joe Cowan, Junior Taylor and Matt Slater. The freshmen receivers, Breazell, Graves and Marcus Everett looked pretty raw but, again, it was their first day.

From the looks of the first day, it's easy to guess that freshman tight end Tony Lee will probably be with the offensive linemen soon.

Defensive end Kevin Harbour attended practice and ran a bit, looking like he hadn't suffered any kind of serious knee injury.

Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola fullback George Hypolite attended practice this afternoon.

Head Coach Karl Dorrell's post-practice comments:

"We had a very enthusiastic practice today. Guys are really excited to be back on the field. Our defense had a good showing today. Offensively we threw a lot of information at them. More than we've ever done. I think the tempo of practice was exactly what I wanted it to be. The morale is good. Their attitude is good. They're working hard. It was a good first day."

On how much everyone is on the same page: "There's more common ground right now because our systems have been in a year. The players that have been here, going into their second year, are more comfortable. The coaching staff is feeling more comfortable. The players are really enjoying themselves, and that's what we're really excited about."

On what you should look for with this tea: "I think you should look for consistency, and more productivity on the field. You'll see that for sure. Defensively, you'll see some young players, but I think they'll understand our defense very, very well. There will be a lot of players playing on defense. You'll see a better team. A team that's excited about proving themselves and their desire to get things done. We'll be an exciting team to watch."

On improving in his second year compared to last season: "Anything is better than what we did last year. Even though it wasn't reflected in wins and losses, the steps we made last year was reflected in an attitude change. Everything is where it needs to be right now. Right now I'm measuring success by how our players are playing hard, communicating with each other, and working hard, and enjoying themselves. When you have a team playing that way, and playing as one, the success factor will go way up."

On the team generally looking bigger and stronger: "They look like football players now out there. The big guys have done a great job of working out and getting strong and big. That's going to be a benefit for us. But we still have to play football. You can be as strong as you want, but you still have to play the game. Strength is some of it, but it's not all of it. We still have to do a lot of things on the field to get ourselves ready to play."

On who impressed for the first day: "I thought we looked pretty quick with our skill guys. The running backs looked really good today. It was good to see Manuel out there running, Maurice Drew and young Chris Markey. Those guys did a nice job. And we have some good, young receivers that are joining this group that have some speed and quickness. I think our DBs, the young guys we have coming along at that position, did a nice job too. It was a good showing."

On Cassell and Ohaeri splitting time at the cornerback position: "There's no starter at that corner. There's going to be a rotation of four guys (Cassel, Ohaeri, Jebiaus Brown and Mil'Von James) that will get chances to play with the first defense. You'll see that throughout camp, until someone solidifies themselves."


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