This appeared to be a beautiful day in Westwood well before practice even began, when Brigham Harwell strode briskly past, looking every bit the fit young student athlete. Last time we saw the talented starting defensive tackle he was trying out new cructches on the sidelines at Drake Stadium, after spraining an ankle during Saturday's scrimmage. Today: no discernable limp.
The light breeze rustling the towering sycamores flanking Pauley Pavilion continued to blow good news the Bruins way, when cub sensation Gavin Ketchum bounded out onto Spaulding Field reporting for active WR duty, sporting his spanking clean #10 practice whites.
From then on, life was a simple matter of keeping my peepers peeled from my usual perch in the top row of the Spaulding bleachers, as Aaron Perez and Justin Medlock took turns spanking punts, which spiraled high into the wild blue yonder.
After the serially intense Doc Kreis led the squad through the usual spate of stretching exercises, it was time for the freshly-limber Bruin footballers to knuckle down to some serious special teams work.
Despite his obviously strong field goal kicking leg, Justin Medlock still doesn't quite reach the end zone with his kickoffs. But he got decent air and dropped them in fairly consistently between the 5- and 10-yard lines.
It's uncertain if the UCLA staff has settled on starters just yet, but this years kick return candidates appear to be Chris Markey, Matt Willis, Rodney Van and Kahlil Bell. Each appeared comfortable catching the ball and all of them have some straight-ahead giddy-up, with Van and Willis being the fastest.
The leading punt return candidates look to be Maurice Drew, Markey and Ryan Graves. While one can debate the wisdom of burning a redshirt year utilizing a player primarily on special teams, it looks as if this year a few true freshmen will be utilized on special teams, in fact.
Punter Aaron Perez appears to be settling in and getting more comfortable. He has improved from spring to fall, but he has still struggled with consistency. When Perez gets hold of one it sails, but as he said: "I'll be the first one to tell you I need to be more consistent."
As Perez explained after practice, most of the battle is mental. He spoke highly of coach Brian Schneider, who continually reminds him to "just relax, have fun and do what everybody knows" he can do. Punting is a rhythm thing, with the drop being the key. A humble straight shooter and likeable young man, Aaron's frustration at times stems from failing to meet his own expectations.
Unlike many athletes who seek to bulk up to play Division 1 football, Perez actually dropped 23 pounds in the off season, which seems a clear indicator he has the discipline and drive to excel. He recently sought advice from just-graduated UCLA punter Chris Kluwe, who also emphasized the mental aspect of the game, advising Aaron to stay cool. Fellow footsmith Justin Medlock, a tremendous competitor himself, also inspires Perez by challenging him to punt-offs. In his post practice interview today Head Coach Karl Dorrell made it plain that Medlock will handle placekicking only and Perez will be UCLA's punter.
After extended special teams drills, it was time for some seven-on-seven. If you have never seen a practice in shells, it can make it difficult to determine much, especially later on in camp when the bodies need a break from constant hitting and the novelty of violently cracking pads with players on your own team has begun to wear off a tad. It was a day of light contact drills featuring "thudding" the ball carrier to simulate tackling, while obviously throttling down on the ferocity of the usual full-tilt collisions.
Not a bad idea, especially with the recent rash of injuries becoming somewhat an unpopular topic of the UCLA head coach in post practice interviews, and partly contributing to flaring tempers among the typically mild-mannered, civil discoursing denizens of Bruin Report Online. (Or so typed the winking beat reporter, with tongue plastered in cheek.)
On the injury front, thank the saints and sages of all religions under the bright blue heavens and miraculous sparkling stars that no new nicks and dings of any major significance emerged this afternoon. (Unless Tony Lee's knee tweak is serious?) For the full list of walking wounded, see the Monday morning report. This edition reflects only updates from Monday morning where necessary.
Defensive tackle Brigham Harwell dressed for Monday afternoon practice, but didn't participate. He jogged lightly and appeared to have no problem putting full weight on his tender ankle.
Running back Kahlil Bell appeared to show no lingering affects from his minor concussion and once again flashed his obvious running skills.
Receiver Gavin Ketchum ditched the red jersey, returned to action-wearing whites, and picked up where he left off, slightly rusty as expected, but still running precociously polished routes and snagging stone smoothly .
Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Tony Lee was wearing a knee brace and limping noticeably, while sitting out afternoon drills.
Drills, Thrills and Chills:
Frankly there were plenty of drills, and little in the way of thrills and chills this fine sunny afternoon in beautiful downtown Bruinvillle. Now and again, practices seem specifically geared toward working on timing, learning assignments, settling a few depth issues and generally repeating a redundant series of drills that both practice regulars and partiicpants have seen before. In addition to his many skills on display daily in cyber space, our fearless leader Tracy Pierson seems to possess a remarkable clairvoyance to pinpoint precisely when to delegate practice coverage to his dutiful subordinate.
Again, with no real contact along the line of scrimmage, there is not much to gauge how well those filling in for the injured Kevin Brown performed. The best that can possibly be said for Brown's injury is that it happened early enough in camp to give the DL time to adjust and provide some hope that Brown may perhaps return for the later part of the season.
Nobody on this UCLA defensive squad will replace Brown. But Harwell, Nathaniel Skaggs, and the two scrappy youngsters, Kenneth Lombard and Chase Moline, will give it their gutty little all Skaggs has shown some impressive playmaking skills and Moline and Lombard are smallish but quick, with strong lower bodies and low centers of gravity. Defense is a team game. It's probably true that the DL won't dominate, but if they can at least disrupt the middle, occupy blockers and create piles, they will enable Justin London & Co. to make plays behind them. Moline is a surprisingly effective little football player and Lombard has shown an ability to penetrate.
QB or not QB?
In his post-practice interviews today Karl Dorrel indicated he will settle on a starting QB this week. By most accounts it is a two-horse race between the two Olsons, Ben and Drew. Drew Olson looked to be the sharpest QB today, while Ben Olson didn't have one of his better practices but continues to impress with his overall athleticism and ability to make throws.
Patrick Cowan, while slightly behind the two leaders, continues his recent trend of throwing well. While he still has developing to do, it is easy to forget he is only a redshirt freshman. David Koral looked good today in short yardage and redzone drills, where his natural athleticism and ability to throw short are helpful.
Drew Olson appeared confident today, moving well on his revamped knee, and definitely seeming improved as a passer over last fall camp. He tossed one beautiful ball to a tightly covered Logan Paulsen, who made yet another routinely spectacular, one-handed grab. Paulsen is a very good athlete, blessed with good speed, balance, agility, good height, a muscular frame and remarkably sure claws. He is loose limbed and plays the game relaxed, as if he's balling school yard. It doesn't take BROstradamus to foresee many circus catches in his bright future at the Rose Bowl.
Gazing deeply into the same crystal ball, one can also envision the tall, deceptively-swift and sure-fingered Gavin Ketchum having a sparkling career and breakout freshman season. He has six-man rotation written all over him. Not a bad looking baller for a two star recruit. (wink)
Ben tossed his usual allotment of strikes, but seemed to struggle a bit with his accuracy and decision-making today. He threw a pick on his first play in a two-minute drill. In fairness, cornerback Trey Brown anticipated beautifully on the play to swipe that stone and sprint yard. Everything we might expect to see from Ben Olson as a redshirt frosh with limited experience and unlimited potential was on display this single afternoon. He uncorked the usual zingers, delivered precisely on time over the middle on one play, followed by the freshman head scratcher the next.
In his post-practice comments, Karl Dorrell adressed various aspects of Saturday's scrimmage that may have passed unnoticed to many. Being an amateur reporter by trade, I rely largely on my faulty memory and hastily scribbled notes. So please be advised these closing comments are merely my interpretations and not verbatim quotes.
Apparently at this point in camp, the coaching staff is pretty well set in terms of who the first and second teamers are at most positions. One primary function of the scrimmage in the staff's eyes was to get a clearer picture of which players are ready for prime time; who is best suited for the scout team and how the overall depth chart shakes out.
So Dorrell and his staff were taking a long, hard look at various players live and on film in the scrimmage's simulated game conditions. While this might not make for as entertaining a brand of football as some fans might like to see, the scrimmage was more functional than funkadelic, so to speak. Overall, the staff felt satisfied they achieved their main objectives Saturday.
By week's end the staff will have named a starting quarterback. Whoever emerges victorious, clearly the competition was wide open and hotly contested right down to the wire. Seeing the two Olsons go toe to toe, with the talented young Patrick Cowan and a game David Koral pushing them from behind made for a dramatic camp.
A UCLA spokesman, actually, asked me to remind the BRO denizens that Wednesday will in fact be the last day practice is open to the public. Thursday the press-only phase of camp begins, as the staff starts implementing the game plan for the opener vs San Diego State.
Finally, thanks to all BROs who contributed practice reports, keeping fellow posters up to speed on the latest camp haps. Those glowing little ditties have become a time-honored tradition here on BRO's premium football message board, just like Pin Ups, the star wars, Derf one-liners and crank/blue battles. Speaking of which, keep in mind that despite our passionate differences, underneath all the blither and blather,.we all bleed Bruin blue.