The first Bruin I saw jog through the gates of Spaulding Field in full blue & gold gear was #8 Shawn Oatis. WOW! Dude's a quick healer. Just yesterday I'd seen Oatis sprawled on the turf as a trainer gingerly examined Shawn's injured knee. I even read posts indicating that Oatis had been victimized by Spaulding's deadly synthetic surface.
Meanwhile there was # 8, big as life, pausing momentarily to adjust his battle gear. Either I was imagining things, or rumors of that killer plasto turf I‘d been reading about on the internet, were mildly exaggerated? "Oatis my man! How's the knee?" I asked. He smiled back over his shoulder pads as he bounded off to crack pads with his boys: "It's cool."
Westwood was anything but cool, I thought, squinting into the sweltering haze that hovered over legendary Spaulding Field. Fierce heat glared off the aluminum bleachers and pounded down on my bare naked dome. Suddenly I not only understood why Karl Dorrell and his staff wear an odd assortment of wide brimmed hats, which have been ridiculed on internet message boards.
In fact, it seemed nearly every one of the 100 some Bleacher Bums on hand was sporting protective headgear, but me. Memo to self: never believe what you read on the internet. Unless of course some wise BROzo suggests that if you plan to attend summer practice at Spaulding Field, wear a hat.
Defensive back coach Gary DeLoach sported a floppy blue lid as he barked out: RED -18 RED 18, in his gruff Texas drill sargeant drawl. He flicked a variety of passes to his DBs, so they could practice making picks at various angles. There's an old cliché that if a DB could catch he'd play WR. I don't know where that old wives' tale came from? Maybe WRs get their hands on more ladies, or grab more cash in the NFL?
At several practices now, I've noticed that UCLA's current crop of DBs are nmot only outstanding cover men, but they have excellent mitts. They not only make easy catches but snag tough ones. DeLoach has perfected the art of floating the ball just beyond reach, so that they have to sprint for it. Some of those poor DBs will hear "RED I8! RED 18! in their dreams for the rest of their lives while chasing balls drifting just beyond reach …
Coach Chuck Bullough, the Bullet favors a snappy wide brimmed straw hat to protect his shiny dome from the ravages of the Spaulding sun. Bullough is a highly animated hands on demonstrator. He is constantly waving his arms, squatting, shuffling to demonstrate precisely how he prefers his drills to be run. While no stranger to dispensing praise when the young men get one right. when a player finds himself lost in space, or horribly misaligned. He's not remotely shy about loudly blurting out: "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING???" Welcome to big time college football in Westwood walk on.
It takes one drill to understand what makes DeWayne a special football coach. Walker is a superb communicator, who commands respect, jut by tehw ay he comports himself. He too wears a hat when he coaches. Many hats. One minute he's the stern taskmaster scolding a player for sloppy technique. GET BACK HERE AND DO THAT AGAIN!" The next minute he's the proud father figure dishing praises for a task well mastered.
Walker has a true teachers knack for understanding the difference between when a player needs a pat on the back and when a good swift boot in the ass is the textbook of choice. When he feels the need to refocus the squad and get their full attention he huddles up his entire defensive unit. Whatever Walker you can see renewed bounce in the D when the HORN sounds, the huddle breaks with the collective roar of DEE-FENSE and players sprint to the next drill. When individual units finish complete drills, it's scrimmage time.
The offensive players dressed in white road jerseys, square off with the defenders wearing blue. What a thrill to see those uniforms up close and personal again, after several months listening to fans debate the merits of one uni style over another? Bottom line, UCLA's blue, white and gold unis are among the classiest in college football. Especially when the blue defenders line up to butt heads with the white clad offense for the first crack of pads.
As the 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 scrimmages have cranked up, throughout Fall camp so far, a consensus among fans in attendance would break down as follows. In a word, UCLA's defense IS really, really, good. UCLA's offense will be good. Without question, the defense looks to be among the best in the conference, if not the country.
How good the offense will be is hard to tell just yet? Especially when they butt heads with such a superbly talented, supremely confident and sublimely coached defense. However competing against such a stellar unit every day can only help. Once UCLA‘s offense starts to move the sticks consistently against this stingy defense, (which I believe will begin to happen later on in camp), then they will gain the confidence to know they can move the ball on anybody. I've seen it happen over the course of many camps. when one unit continues to dominate the other until that one magical play changes the dynamic.
I could certainly discuss this particular play and that particular play from this particular, essentially meaningless scrimmage. But several posters have already submitted detailed and excellent practice reports. So I believe our time will be more worthwhile spent dissecting what appear to be the relative strengths and weaknesses of the offense in the first week of camp.
While some have expressed concerns about a lack of playmakers, the consensus among those I agree with, is that this offense will be as good as the offensive line play, the quarterback decision making and execution allow them to be. Would another playmaker help? Always. But UCLA has enough playmakers to score points Especially given that the defense will keep scores low, provide excellent field position, create turnovers and even score points.
The real trick will be for the OL to open holes for the backs to consistently gain yards to take pressure of a relatively inexperienced QB, while simultaneously protecting the QB well enough to complete enough passes to open things up for the running game. That's a long way of saying UCLA will need to prove it can establish a balanced offense. On his part, Ben Olson must consistently make quick reads, find the open receivers and deliver accurate passes. Sounds simple enough, but it really all boils down to execution.
While depth is a concern and UCLA lacks a true home run hitter in the backfield, workhorse Chris Markey is both quicker and thicker. Thanks no doubt to the one two punch of Doc Kreis and Randy Horton. Kahlil Bell has not had many opportunities to carry the ball, but has done well when called upon in games and has been extremely effective in practice. Chane Moline is a strong hard runner who will likely improve with more looks. ALL can catch the ball out of the backfield. Ryen Carew is an unproven commodity at the Division one level, but was twice lead the City Section in rushing. He also ran explosively against UCLA's defense last year prior to injuring his knee. He looks fully recovered from knee surgery but has a shoulder issue being looked into?
At WR, there is definitely enough depth and talent to go deep and complete short passes with YAC potential. Again, providing that the QB delivers accurate passes on time, Joe Cowan, Brandon Brazelle and Marcus Everett are all proven weapons, who will provide senior leadership. Gavin Ketchum is a tall rangy target, who excelled as a true frosh, but for whatever reason was sparsely little last season. Terence Austin is a potential game breaker, who deserves more looks. Dominique Johnson and the seldom mentioned Jamil Turner have looked vastly improved the past week. While Osaar Rasshan, with a mere one week n the offense is drawing near unanimously rave reviews as a freak in training.
As for the much maligned WCO itself. new offensive coordinator Jay Norvell has demonstrated that UCLA will be both infinitely more aggressive and profundly less unpredictable. There is an emphasis nto only on exectuion, but deception!!! Norvell is busily installing multiple sets and formations, the likes of which UCLA fans haven't seen. Among other excting new twists, the shotgun has been prominently onm display, with 3 and even 4 WR sets. Here's a Novel idea, Norvell even seems to believe in the wild-eyed heresy of running from passing formations and passing from running formations. And dig this. Norvell evidently sees the wisdom in slinging the rock deep downfield often enough to keep defenses honest and who knows, maybe even completing a few big plays? So there are clear signs of progress and hope.
Granted there are concerns on offense and some big Ifs UCLA will need to break their way in order to truly field a consistent balanced offense in 2007. But the tools are all there. It will be interesting to see how far the offense improves as camp progresses. Progresses. Having attended we very practice to date, I have seen the O produce their share of plays against this very very good defense. But today was a poor day to judge thir progress, due to the fact that the offense was installing intricate new formations, which require multiple reads and precise timing. The plays they NAILED resulted in some nice gains. The ones they didn't quite execute properly were STUFFED. But the new kinks, wrinkles and deceptive looks which defy easily fathomed tendencies by opposing defenses not nearly as talented as UCLA, will definitely pay dividends further on up the road.. Perhaps as early as next Saturday come "must win" scrimmage time?
Speaking of the future, I had the pleasure of meeting Carol Carter, as she stopped by to console and cheer up her injured son Raymond. She is a warm and lovely woman, who had Raymond smiling and laughing, while hobbling around Spaulding Field on his crutches. Easy to see where Ray got his gazillion megawatt smile. In speaking briefly with Ray and his mom, I learned that his spirits are good and he feels filled with hope about returning as good as ever from surgery and rehab What a resilient and spirit!
I let Ray know that the UCLA family has his back, and send their best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery. I mentioned that many players develop stronger hearts and minds after rebounding from similar heartbreaks. Carol Carter nodded and beamed, "I just got done telling Raymond that his dream was only delayed, not denied."