Pre-Camp: Norm Chow is Excited

UCLA's Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow sat down with Bruin Report Online's Robert Kuwada to talk about the offense and the quarterbacks heading into fall camp, especially designated starter Kevin Prince. And the much experienced Chow couldn't contain his excitement...

Robert Kuwada is a veteran Los Angeles area sports writer, having written prominently for the Long Beach Press Telegram and Orange County Register over the course of two decades. He was the Register's UCLA beat writer for five seasons.
"I'm excited."

That's the message. Norm Chow has not yet settled back into the comfy chair in his office, but he drops those two words on you. You get a handshake and "I'm excited" quickly preempts any exchange of pleasantries. How's your summer? Go anywhere? Do anything? Have any good sushi lately? "I'm excited." That's for starters.

Chow lived through his first season at UCLA with his vibrant offense playing as if in a fog, stunted by a slew of injuries and operator error, but his now assured outlook goes beyond the calendar and competitiveness in all coaches. Fall camp everywhere is fueled by optimism, but Chow has more this time round to manipulate opposing defenses, starting with a quarterback in redshirt freshman Kevin Prince who has taken steps forward since a solid spring.

When last seen under helmet and pads, Prince was on the field a the Rose Bowl with receivers all over the field, the spread formations sparking the Bruins' offense to their best drives in a spring game that did not include a lot of points on the scoreboard.

They were figuring out some things, and now the Bruins get to add to that mix the speed of freshmen wideout Randall Carroll and running back Damien Thigpen, and add the tenacity of a freshman Ricky Marvray to the receiving corps. Receiver Taylor Embree, who set school freshman records for receptions (40) and receiving yards (531), did not participate in spring practices because of shoulder surgery. He is back. Tight end Logan Paulsen was out for the spring recovering from a fracture in his right foot. He is back. Running back Christian Ramirez took only a couple of reps in the spring because of a bad hamstring. He is back.

The Bruins have a much different look than just four months ago, more playmakers, more speed on offense then they have had in years.

Think Chow might be able to create a mismatch or two, using Morrell Presley or Carroll or Thigpen or Ramirez or Nelson Rosario or Jonathan Franklin or Terrence Austin or Embree or Logan Paulsen or Marvray? Get some consistent play out of the offensive line, a running game, and the Bruins move up considerably from a year ago when ranked 110th of 119 bowl subdivision teams in scoring offense and 111th in total offense.

"It's a fun time," Chow said.

Make no mistake, the freshmen will get a chance to play even if it's a risky proposition. But with the past two recruiting classes under Coach Rick Neuheisel and his staff now in Westwood, Spaulding Field looks more like the Serengeti, less like a petting zoo.

"We promised them (the recruits) that in recruiting. We believe in that style. The old style is to bring a guy in and redshirt him. With the numbers now it doesn't work that way. You have to let them come in and compete for jobs," Chow said. "They understand that. The old guys understand that."

The danger, of course, is the inexperience can stunt production. But the Bruins learned last season that 21 interceptions are more difficult to overcome.

"It really wasn't the player's fault. It was our fault because we had what we had and we may have tried to do too much," Chow said. "I'm a firm believer in making sure what we do we do well and we weren't doing that. But we were so needing to make stuff happen that we probably didn't give it as much emphasis as we should have.

"We were always chipped up. We were always playing different combinations of guys. We were always looking for things to do. It's our fault for not kind of finding those things that we could do well and keep doing them. It was hard – and it was hard for the players, too."

What they do, they will do well.

"You're looking at Morrell Presley, Randall Carroll, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Stan know...Damien Thigpen, Ricky Marvray...what is that, six guys?" Chow said. "You've got a couple of junior college linemen, Eddie Williams and Ryan Taylor. You bring in JC guys so they can play for you, you don't bring in JC guys so they can be backups. You're not looking for a whole lot of guys to break through, but you are looking for some guys. "The negative side obviously is the experience factor and the knowledge factor and all that, but that's our job, to make them understand. The knowledge stuff - make sure they know what they're doing, make sure they know where they're going, the adjustments that they have to make. That's what we have to do as coaches – that's why we coach. We have to coach them properly, we have to teach them properly."

The veterans, with a second year in the offense, Chow said, will help considerably in that regard by helping make sure routes are run properly and plays are executed correctly.

Once there, it is up to Prince to pull the trigger and through a summer of 7-on-7s he has a better feel for where the ball needs to go against certain defenses.

"I think Prince has done a good job of understanding what we're trying to get done," Chow said. "He's a big, strong guy, He's smart. I think it's a mental game with him. We have to make sure he understands that concept, but football-wise he's really on top of what's going on. "The fact the he hasn't played, the fact that he's going to see stuff he hasn't seen, that defenses are going to surprise him with something, his ability to handle all that will determine how good he really can be. But he understands the pass offense and the fact that you don't have to press making huge downfield plays. You have to keep the chains moving. I think he understands that as well as any young quarterback. That alone will keep the offense (moving). We'll try to get chunks, but if we don't get the chunks at least we're gong to keep the chains moving and keep the ball. I think he has a great feel for that."

Prince will be able to keep his eyes forward during fall camp, having won a clear decision in winning the starting job. Though he won't be facing competition from freshman Richard Brehaut or senior Kevin Craft, the Bruins' other quarterbacks also have made progress.

By enrolling in school in time for spring practice, Brehaut gave himself a huge head start. "It's amazing how advanced Brehaut is as opposed to coming in August," Chow said.

The freshman was inundated with information in the spring and, as that settles in and he gets more reps, he will gain more of a comfort level in the offense.

"I think Brehaut is the same way (as Prince)," Chow said. "I think Brehaut is a little better athletically, so he can maybe make something happen if something breaks down. But Kevin had the benefit of a whole year, a year and a half, where Richard doesn't. But he's also very talented. He's a tough guy and he learns very well."

Kevin Craft obviously struggled last season in a difficult situation, inheriting the starting job when Patrick Cowan and then Ben Olson went down with injuries late in the spring. He completed only 55.6 percent of his passes and threw a school-record 20 interceptions.

Craft's troubles last season were not in the meeting room, but on the field. Judging from the spring, making the correct reads and executing plays remains troublesome. But he has a deeper base of knowledge in the offense in a second year working with Chow.

"We obviously didn't play like the way we thought we should have played last year and he understands that," Chow said. "But he's a nice kid, too, and I think he also has a better feel for the offense because he's been around for two years now."

Redshirt freshman Nick Crissman, the only other scholarship quarterback in camp, is near healthy again after undergoing surgery last year to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. He did some throwing in the spring, but his arm strength was not there and he remains something of a question mark. "He's just an unknown guy," Chow said. ‘"He's been limiting throwing the ball. We just haven't seen him."

Ted Landers, from Serra High in Gardena, will walk-on and be in camp. The 6-foot-4 freshman had a big senior year, completing 162 of 245 passes (66.1 percent) for 2,646 yards with 37 touchdowns and only six interceptions.

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