Ben Olson, the much-heralded sophomore quarterback who is expected to be the starter this fall spoke to Bruin Report Online about what he and the team have been doing in the off-season so far.
So, give us an overview of what you and the team have been doing since winter/spring practice?
"As a team, we're going on our eighth week of the off-season since practice. In the early morning, the big men are lifting at 6:00, and then it's 6:15 for the skill guys. We go until 9:30, four days a week. Then we throw seven-on-seven on Tuesdays and Thursdays."
How has the atmosphere and feeling been?
"It's going really well. We're all upbeat and it's definitely competitive in the seven-on-sevens, even in the off-season."
Then, what else are you doing in terms of watching film and meetings?
"I'm watching film, man, and then watching more film. It's just going over the offense. A lot of it is going to change, too. We're putting in some shotgun. But a lot of it is stuff we're going to be doing. So we're going over all of that stuff. We're meeting with the coaches, even though they haven't been around that much lately because they've been out recruiting. But it's like being on the field, watching film it's a matter of getting a lot of reps, and a lot of learning."
Speaking of being on the field, how much does watching film help you compared to actually doing it in practice?
"Well, film work, it's good to watch film. You need to go over it mentally. But there's nothing like going over it on the field, actually exeperiencing it on the field and doing it yourself."
What film are you watching specifically?
"Most of it is cut-ups of our offense from last year. I've probably watched a total of five or six games from last season. I've also broken down Utah (UCLA's opponent Sept. 2nd) and the defenses they run. There's film of spring, and I watch that, going over our offense even more. And then we draw a lot of plays on the board, too."
Do you then apply that to the seven-on-sevens?
"Yeah, some, in some sense. You're limited what you can do in the seven-on-sevens. You can't do play action. So it's a different look, but it does help you go over plays and repeatedly run them. That's when it becomes second nature, if you do it enough. What we try to do is, I draw up the scripts, the plays of the day, and we do those plays over and over again. Say, it could be five plays we're working on and we work on those."
Do you watch film with just the quarterbacks or other players, too?
"You name them, I watch film with them. I've gone to an o-line meeting, just to get as familiar as I can with their protections and what they're doing. I sit in sometimes with the receivers. Or I just watch by myself, too, if anyone isn't available to go with you."
Do you do any extra throwing?
How much film do you think you watch a week?
"Probably about 5 or six hours a week, give or take. Maybe more. Maybe on average about an hour a day. It varies, though. One day it could be ten minutes, the next day it could be three hours."
What do you do on weekends?
"I go home sometimes, to Thousand Oaks, and hang out with my family. My little sister is running track for the T.O. Flyers. So, I can go watch her on weekends. And then I throw sometimes at Thousand Oaks High School. But sometimes I stay here and throw with the guys here."
How much do you think you've progressed since winter practice?
"I think I've come a long way. During winter ball, we were learning some new things on offense, with new guys at just about every position, and with new coaches at every position except quarterback. So that was a big learning transition. Now it's time to gel. We're using this off-season as a period to harness those skills and prepare ourselves for fall camp. I know I've learned more about what we want to accomplish on offense, the scheme and what we're doing."
How has it been different under new Offensive Coordinator Jim Svoboda, as opposed to former O.C. Tom Cable?
"Everyone has their individual styles in how they run an offense and how they call the plays. Even without the offense changing much, Coach Cable is still different than Coach Svoboda, and you have to get used to it. I think it's really starting to click now. But it definitely is a case of different coaches and different styles. It's interesting about coaches, that you can do the same system but, like Coach Svoboda will put in his little tweak on what we're doing, and you have to adjust to that."
It must be a transition for the entire offense, with so many new coaches?
"It is. Like I said, every position has a new coach except for quarterback. In spring we used that to get familiar, and find our identity on offense. But it was still a matter of learning new tweaks by all of the new coaches. Like with the receivers, learning how to take a slightly different cut that's taught by the new coach, or the running backs learning to take a different angle on the same plays as last season. It's great. We've come together in having to adapt to the changes, and it's been good we were able to do that. Because once fall camp comes around we're going to be looking to hit the ground full speed."
Are you happy about incorporating the shotgun into the offense?
"I love it. I did a lot of it in high school and I'm a big fan of the shot gun."
Are you generally more comfortable throwing in it?
"Probably. I'd say so. It's kind of funny that when I came here we didn't throw anything out of the shotgun and I just had to adapt. So I'm happy for sure. I love the gun because I think it saves you time. In the time it takes you to get the snap and drop back, you have that time to see the field and get rid of the ball."
There was some talk that, under Coach Cable, it was thought that there weren't quick enough OLs in the program to be able to execute the shotgun. Do you think your OL this year can do it?
"I think so. I think we have some good athletes on the offensive line. You have to help them out, though, and be a balanced aattack. You can't go out of the gun all day because the defense will be keying on it. But I think our OL is as athletic as it's been in a long time. They're young but they have the capability."
Do you hang out with them much? Try to get that bond going so they'll feel it's more personal in trying to protect you? Buy them a steak dinner now and then?
"I haven't sprung for the steak dinner yet. I'll probably wait to do something like that this season. I'll have to come up with some reward for them during the season, because without those guys you're nothing. But I don't know if I can afford a bunch of steak dinners. But yeah, I'm good friends with pretty much all of them. We'll have the occasional barbecue together."
How do you think the offensive line is looking in the off-season?
"I think all of them are working so hard. Noah Sutherland, Shannon Tevaga, Robert Chai and Chris Joseph, who I'm really excited to get back. He's doing just about everything right now with his knee, even though I think he kind of hurt his hamstring a week or two ago. But the knee is doing really well. I think they're all looking really good."
Where do you think Joseph will plug in?
"Probably at guard."
Have you had much contact with any of the incoming freshmen?
"Well, I hosted Terrence Austin when he came on his official visit. I talk to him every now and then. I talked to (junior commited quarterback) Chris Forcier when he was here on campus and committed. He's a good kid."
Was he pretty excited that day?
"Oh yeah. I just talked to him about why I chose to come to UCLA. He seemed like a really nice guy. I got to meet him and his dad and I think his uncle, and they were all great."
What do want to accomplish mainly in the off-season?
"It's crazy how fast it's going. It's just flying by, the weeks come and go and you look up and you're getting close to fall camp. I'm pretty focused on preparing myself to get ready for the fall season. It's going to be a big year and I'm going to have a lot of responsibility and I want to prepare myself. I want to keep throwing, lifting and running and doing everything I need to do to be prepared."
How did you think you did in winter practice?
"I obviously thought I had my moments, and I thought our offense had its moments. But I think you have to look at it objectively and then move forward. In certain practices I thought I did well, and others I thought I didn't. Spring ball is tough, though, especially this year since it was so quick after the season. But you just have to use it and build upon it to get ready for fall camp."
Have you talked to Drew Olson lately?
"I've talked to him. Right now he's back in Baltimore, but he was here a couple of times and I'd see him a couple of days a week. We would get together and throw and that kind of thing. He's now busy trying to do his thing and I'm busy trying to do mine."
Do you spend a lot of time with Patrick Cowan?
"We throw every now and then together, that type of thing. We watch fim together. You work pretty closely as quarterbacks, especially since there are only three of us, along with Osaar Rasshan."
Is it a bit strange that you're the same class as Cowan, but probably three years older than he is?
"It is kind of funny, being that much older than him and Osaar, and a lot of the other guys on the team. But I don't look at myself as being that much older than the other guys. I mean, it never really comes out. Sometimes you try to share with them your life experiences if it helps with something, that kind of thing."
How will your regimen change during the summer?
"We'll stick to this same schedule as long as school is in. Then when school gets out it will change for summer workouts. I don't know exactly what we'll be doing yet but it will change up."
What kind of shape would you say you're in right now?
"The best shape of my life. I just had my physical yesterday. When I first got to UCLA my body fat was 14% and now it's down to just 7%. So it's come down a lot. I feel really good, too. I've worked very hard in this off-season, to try to improve everything, my foot speed, quickness, arm strength - everything.
Are you where you want to be physically?
"I think so. I don't think they want you to get under 6% body fat."
How much do you weight now?
"About 225 to 227, and that's about where I want to be and where the coaches want me to be. I could get up to 250 if I wanted to, but I want to be fast."
So it's not the case with you where you need to eat a lot to keep on weight?
"I could definitely gain weight. We work so hard right now I can definitely eat just about anything I want, and I eat a lot. But if I wanted to I could pack on the pounds. The most important thing is being athletic and being able to move."
What do you do specifically to work on foot speed and quickness?
"I do a lot of foot drills. When I go out and throw I'll do drills, and work on drops. Right now, between spring camp and fall camp, this is the time I think you really have the opportunity to make huge strides in your game. Like I said, it went so fast between the season and spring ball you didn't have much time to work on a lot of things you wanted to."
What kind of training will you do outside of UCLA this summer?
"I might work out with (quarterback gurus) Steve Clarkson and Bob Johnson. I might also work with Roger Theder, the guy who Drew works with. I'm going to be busy, and I haven't even decided if I'm going to go to summer school yet."
How are you doing in school?
"Well. I have a 3.0 cumulative GPA. I don't know what I'm going to major in yet. Probably History."
Did you get much from Drew Olson about his NFL experience, and experience with the draft?
"I haven't talked to him since he's been in his training camp. I thought his experience with the draft was eye-opening. There were some guys I thought should have been drafted and weren't, and that wakes you up. It makes you think, 'What do I have to do to get there, if those guys didn't get drafted?' But Drew will have his opportunity. He's in a good situation for him."
In working out with the receivers, and in the seven-on-sevens, what receivers have developed?
"To be honest, all of them. Cowan, he's the solid, steady Joe Cowan. Breazell has looked good, and so has Marcus. All of the guys have been looking good. We'll have a lot of experience at receiver. It's funny, too, since last year everyone was saying how we didn't have experience at receiver and now it's probably the position with the most experience."
How has Junior Taylor been doing?
"I throw a lot with Junior. He's jogging now almost at full speed. I think he'll probably be completely cleared by mid-June, and be full go. He's running well on his knee. I don't think he's making a whole lot of hard cuts right now, but he can run pretty fast straight ahead at this point."
What are the goals for the team in the upcoming season?
"This season we definitely have high goals here at UCLA. We expect a lot. As a team we want to win the Pac-10 and go to a BCS bowl, and beat USC. We talk about that as being at the forefront of our minds. I think it's good doing that. It's just exciting to have the opportunity, what you can get at UCLA, at this type of university. With how the program is progressing, we know when we watch other programs being among the best in the country we say, 'Why not us?' We know we can do that, and it's where UCLA should be. I truly believe that, and believe we can do it. You can make excuses that we'll be young this year, and we don't have a lot of experience at some positions, but you can't do that. I expect a lot out of this season, from our team and in my own personal performance. It's exciting, and I'm really looking forward to it."