The offense, as you would expect, is rough. You would expect it since, usually, in spring, the defense always dominates the offense; but you'd also expect it since the offense is working in a new scheme from new Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow.
The scheme basically utilizes much of the same plays that the old, dreaded West Coast Offense did, but it does it in far more clever, inventive way. Plays now come out of formations that you wouldn't expect.
Plus the offense also utilizes things Dorrell's WCO never did, or far too rarely – like mis-direction, pitches and the shotgun.
When previously you would always marvel at how limited UCLA's offense was in its vision and scope, now, for the first time in a very long time, watching Chow's offense you feel there is unlimited potential for variation and creativity.
As all of the reports previously have expressed, the tone of practice has also changed. The drills move far more swiftly, with an emphasis on speed and "on the hop." Also, there seems to be so much more coaching going on after ever rep. There is generally a bigger sense of urgency to the practice.
And there is a far more comfortable, secure sense about this coaching staff. Previously, Dorrell wouldn't allow the media off the bleachers at Spaulding Field, but now they can roam around the perimeter. You're now able to hear what Rick Neuheisel, for instance, is saying to his players. Players can actually say hello to you. There isn't that pervasive feeling of paranoia or defensiveness.
It's as if this staff knows it can coach and it isn't afraid to show anyone how it does it.
It was approximately a 70-play scrimmage Saturday, with the 1s, 2s and 3s on offense and defense alternating. The offense started at its own 20 or so, and then started in the redzone, from the defense's 25-yard line.
Patrick Cowan, as most have anticipated, worked entirely with the 1s. It's looking like he's the leading candidate as the starter. He had a decent day, throwing some nice balls and using his athleticism to create some plays. One time, when he needed to dump off a pass into the flat, his throw was batted down easily. Neuheisel said to him, "Pat, use some touch. Softly over their head. Be smart and think how you can make a play."
Ben Olson looked about the same (as, in fact, Cowan did). He still throws a nice ball, but seems late in his decision-making.
Kevin Craft looks like he's got a hold on the third-string position. He has the quickest feet among the top three and can create plays when scrambling well.
The standout on offense was clearly running back Christian Ramirez, who showed nice acceleration through holes and around the edge. He looks like he's gotten a bit bigger, and has lowered his pad level while he runs, making him far more difficult to bring down when he's hit. He busted a couple of nice runs for 15+ yards, and carried three tacklers with him for five yards after the initial hit on one run.
The other standout was a bit of a surprise – freshman wide receiver Taylor Embree. Embree, the son of former UCLA assistant coach Jon Embree, caught just about everything thrown at him, showing good athleticism to go up and get the ball and good hands to bring it down. His touchdown catch was on a bit of a Hail Mary by freshman quarterback Chris Forcier, throwing it up in the end zone, and Embree coming down with it. Embree's very thin, probably 6-3 and 180, and looks physically like a high school player out there. But he showed some great playmaking ability Saturday.
After Embree was catching everything thrown to him, Neuheisel rhetorically asked him, "Taylor, why not catch everything thrown to you?"
Running back Chane Moline was the standout in one series, basically responsible for a couple of first downs through three of four runs.
The offensive line is still a worry. Right now the starters are Micah Kia, at one tackle, who is good; Darius Savage is at one guard and is a load, but he looks a bit lost at times; Micah Reed appeared solid at center, but he is a former walk-on at a new position for the season; Scott Glicksberg, after moving to TE and looking like he wouldn't ever see the field, is back at offensive guard and, while the coaches have been impressed, it's tough to reconcile; and then Sean Sheller, who is young and inexperienced, is at the other tackle position with Aleksey Lanis still out.
Defensively, the strength of UCLA's defensive unit is up the middle. Brigham Harwell and Brian Price are a true pair of athletic, thick defensive tackles, and Reggie Carter, at the Mike linebacker spot, looked quick and agile. Price had a couple of tackles for loss, and Carter made a couple of nice stops when running down ballcarriers.
A few random observations:
-- It wouldn't be surprising if Osaar Rasshan makes the switch back from quarterback to wide receiver by the end of spring. With Cowan, Olson, Craft, Forcier, and then the incoming freshman quarterbacks, it appears there is enough depth at the position to then utilize Rasshan at receiver.
-- Ryan Moya, after returning from injury, looks like he's physically in great shape.
-- Redshirt freshman tight end Nate Chandler is huge, looking more like an offensive tackle than a tight end.
-- David Carter, the defensive tackle, also has gotten thicker, particularly in his lower body.
-- We believe Chinonso Anyanwu has put on some weight, looking more like he's in the 230s.
-- Akeem Ayers, the redshirt freshman linebacker, looks quick for his size. He blocked a punt Saturday.
-- Receiver Gavin Ketchum has thickened out, and looks very good physically. He looked very nice catching a well-thrown ball from Olson over his shoulder down the sideline.
-- Kai Forbath, to our knowledge, missed one field goal in 6 tries.
-- Glenn Love, the redshirt freshman safety, is a big athlete, looking all of 6-4. The wrap he has on his broken hand looks as big as a club.
-- Neuheisel took the offense and the defense through a touchdown celebration drill, and then had the entire team do it. He brought the entire squad on the field, threw up the ball, asked for a defensive lineman to catch it, and then the entire team led the ballcarrier into the endzone and celebrated.
The stats from UCLA:
Passing (PA-PC-PI-YD-TD) -- Cowan: 11-7-0-78 -2 (14 and 8 yard touchdowns); Olson: 13-6-0-93-0; Craft: 6-4-0-42-0; Forcier: 4-2-0-28-1 (24 yard touchdown)
Rushing (TCB-YD-TD) -- Ramirez: 10-54-0; Sheppard: 11-27-0; Moline: 9-7
Receptions (REC-YD-TD) -- Embree: 3-74-1 (24 yard touchdown); Everett: 3-39-1 (14 yard touchdown); Ketchum: 2-36-0; Austin: 2-12-0; Paulsen: 1-8-1 (8 yard TD); Theriot: 1-16-0; Chandler: 1-10-0
(Several others made one reception for less than 10 yards)
At one point, Neuheisel called all the 2008 committed guys on the field during the scrimmage to stand behind him and the offense.
Dean, by the way, is quite a physical specimen.
2009 prospects included linebacker Isaiah Bowens from Bishop Amat, who verbally committed; Bakersfield West OL David Born, who is a legit 6-8 and 320; Los Alamitos quarterback Clark Evans; Tesoro linebacker John Michael Davis; and linebacker Trevor Erno, from Lakewood.
Hayes Pullardvfrom Los Angeles Crenshaw, a 2010 linebacker, was in attendance.