Fall Practice Keys: Offense

Here are the keys to focus on when watching (or following) fall practice in the next two weeks. On offense, there are some questions to be answered...

There are a number of aspects of the 2002 football team that will greatly determine its success for the season. How these key components develop and how strong they contribute to the team. Fall practice starts tomorrow at Cal Lutheran, which gives the team two weeks develop these key elements before "game week," and three weeks to before the Bruins's first game on September 7th. So, here are the keys to watch for in fall practice on offense:

Obviously, Cory Paus is the most important element to the offense. But you can expect that Paus will be as good as he was in spring, which was solid. I've heard that Paus is more focused than in anytime of his career, which you would also expect. The key to watch for in fall practice with Paus is 1) whether he's able to consistently throw the out. While at times he's looked relatively solid, he has struggled to complete that very basic pass play. 2) Whether he's making quicker decisions and reads. This is huge in determining whether Paus will be successful. He's not quick, and he doesn't set up quickly, so it's very important that Paus makes quick reads and gets the ball of quickly. 3) Have the coaches devised new ways to get Paus time to throw? This is more a key element to watch in coaching rather than specifically Paus as a player. But will the coaches move the pocket around? Will they have Paus roll out more? Will they have Paus throwing quicker, with possibly shorter drops?

Of course, every eye at practice will be watching the competition for the #2 quarterback position. John Sciarra came into UCLA last fall and wasn't very good. But he improved consistently through the year and had made big strides by spring. Not that he was good enough to make anyone believe that he would be able to really play, but there was positive development there so that you could believe Sciarra could maybe contribute down the line – and possibly be good enough to be the #2 guy this season. Since no one has seen him since then, it will interesting to see if he's continued to improve. For UCLA, it would be a Godsend. But the UCLA coaches have been very encouraged (and relieved) by what they've seen of Drew Olson in just a few days of freshmen practice. Olson has looked good enough that you would expect him to compete for that #2 spot. He was better this week than Sciarra was last spring. It will also be great to watch Matt Moore, and see how he improves this fall. He has so much potential you never know when it all could come together.

But right behind Paus as the most important element to the offense is easily the offensive line. The offensive linemen all came into UCLA as fairly well-hyped prospects, and have done generally okay, but have yet to really be a dominating offensive line. Senior Mike Saffer is the leader of the line, and he and co-tackle Bryce Bohlander are hugely key to the line's success. They need to be able to contain the pass rush to give Paus time to throw. While Head Coach Bob Toledo's philosophy seems to be that you have to be able to run to throw, which might generally be true most of the time, now, with the way UCLA's offense has seen stacked box after stacked box, the philosophy is going to have to be leaning more toward you have to be able to pass to run. In fall, keep your eye on whether the line will be able to contain UCLA's defensive ends in scrimmages. Will Bohlander and Saffer be able to contain the Ball brothers and Asi Faoa? The Balls and Faoa are good pass rushers, but UCLA should probably face some on opposing teams that are just as good.

The line is very set at tackle, but still somewhat up in the air in the interior. A big factor to watch in fall concerning the offensive line is who will step up and be the starting center. The guy UCLA has been grooming for two years to step in for the departed Troy Danoff, John Ream, has left football due to lingering injuries. So, the battle for the starting center position will be mostly between redshirt sophomore Paul Mociler and redshirt freshman Mike McCloskey. The buzz around the team is that McCloskey has an edge because he's quicker off the block and more athletic. Also, right now, redshirt sophomore Steve Vieira is listed #1 at right guard over redshirt junior Shane Lehmann. Watch to see how Lehmann returns from a series of injuries that made him miss spring and try to win that starting position back. Being a year older, bigger and more experienced, UCLA should be able to get solid play from the right guard position regardless, a position that was a weakness generally last season. Also, it will more than likely be one of the more reassuring aspects of the offensive line this fall to watch and hear how good redshirt sophomore left guard Eyoseph Efseaff is.

Also, it's generally thought that you need eight solid offensive linemen to complete a season. Given UCLA's penchant for injuries and attrition on the offensive line, you would think they need at least that. UCLA is fairly solid and experienced seven deep. But a key to watch for is what other, younger OLs step up and possibly get playing time. The candidates are Ed Blanton and Matt Mosebar at tackle, and Robert Cleary at guard. The word around the team is that Blanton is the most ready.

There is plenty to watch concerning the wide receivers, namely: How healthy are they? Tab Perry had some pretty serious injuries at the end of last season and looked rusty in spring. Watch to see how comfortable he looks in fall. But it's truly a matter of this: If UCLA's wide receivers are healthy, they have a very, very good receiving corps. If they're not, they're in trouble. Ryan Smith showed some signs of greatness last season, but then sat out spring with a strange, lingering ankle injury. He reportedly is recovered. He's particularly key. He's the third receiver behind Perry and potential star Craig Bragg. If he's not healthy, there are true question marks behind him. The theory always is you need five wide receivers able to play, and with UCLA they could have a very strong five, or, if unhealthy, they could be scrambling. There is Perry, Bragg and Smith. The two leading candidates to fill those other two spots are fifth-year senior Jon Dubravac and true freshman Junior Taylor. It's always a question of whether Dubravac will be healthy enough to contribute. He's missed so much time due to injuries, including last spring practice. It's not a good sign when UCLA lists walk-on Garrett Lepisto ahead of Dubravac on the depth chart (but it also is a testament to how solid Lepisto is). From what I've heard, you shouldn't expect too much from Dubravac. And that's probably a good attitude to have. Then, if he defies expectation and becomes a contributor, it's gravy. But Dubravac will definitely be one to watch this fall practice. Taylor looked very promising in spring. He's slated for one of those five slots, so it will be fun to watch him develop more this fall. Then, it will also be key that UCLA develop another receiver who can play. Lepisto showed he could play last season, so he's encouraging. Watch to see whether he steps up and becomes more assertive. But there are also two other walk-ons to watch: senior Russell Thomas and freshman Josh Roenicke. Both showed flashes of being able to contribute in spring. And then perhaps the guy who many are very curious about is redshirt freshman Jacques Lazarus. It would be a particularly pleasant surprise if he showed this fall that he might compete for one of those five spots.

One of the most pleasant aspects of the team to watch will be tight end. Mike Seidman showed in spring that he is on the verge of busting out. The coaches were looking to go his way more often. He's in fantastic shape and worked hard in the off-season. But then, it should be great fun to watch the tight ends behind Seidman. Keith Carter will be a redshirt freshman, and he got rave reviews in practice last season. He's the #2 tight end right now. But all eyes will be on how Marcedes Lewis, the true freshman,will come in and impact the offense. He'll be used as a tight end, slot receiver and wide out. He could also help shore up depth problems at wide receiver. It will be great fun to watch UCLA integrate him into the offense this fall. I'm looking forward to seeing Perry, Bragg, Smith, Seidman and Lewis all lined up, in the game at the same time. That would scare any opposing offense. Watch to see how Blane Kezirian has continued to improve and lend depth at tight end. He's gotten bigger and stronger in the off-season. And there's Saia Makakaufaki, who made the move from defensive line back to his original position of tight end in spring. He had a rough spring, so watch to see how he's improved. They'll need him as the second, blocking tight end in some situations.

Running back is a very interesting situation. The biggest surprise is that Manuel White is listed #1 on the depth chart at fullback. This goes with what Toledo has been saying for a while – that he wants to get White in the game as much as possible. The UCLA backfield is definitely more dangerous with him at fullback. But that's not to say that redshirt sophomore Pat Norton is any slouch. Many know that Norton is one of my favorite players on the team, and this fall it will be fun to watch him step up and assert himself more.

At tailback, Akil Harris has the #1 spot right now, but watch in fall practice to see if he really asserts himself enough to keep a hold of it. If Harris doesn't distinguish himself, it might be that you'd rather have Norton on the field with White rather than Harris, and White would then start at tailback. Then, one of the most exciting aspects of the fall will be to watch the redshirt freshmen tailbacks. Wendell Mathis is currently leading the three, and he's reportedly gotten a little bigger and stronger. Jason Harrison had some very good moments in spring. UCLA is confident about those two being at the very least solid backups at tailback this year. If one really asserts himself this spring, and Harris doesn't, it isn't inconceivable that it could be the beginning of either of them nudging ahead of Harris on the depth chart. What would be the best for the team, though, is that Harris really steps up in the next couple of weeks. Tyler Ebell has had flashes, and it will be interesting to see if this fall he can show more flashes that will force the UCLA coaches to get him on the field more. The coaches experimented with him at slot receiver, to get him the ball in the open field, and it will be interesting to see if that kind of experiment continues.


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