First Practice Has Some Story Lines

There was a little bit of suspense Monday for UCLA's first day of practice -- whether JC lineman Eddie Williams would participate, surprises on the first-string offensive line, etc., -- that made for an intriguing day at Spaulding Field...

Fall football camp began Monday afternoon at Spaulding Field, and there were quite a few little stories. Nothing really big, but many little drama that made up an eventful day.

The drama started early in the day when Eddie Williams, the JC lineman, didn't show up to Media Day. We learned that he was still in the process of completing some paperwork for enrollment. At the time we were told he'd start off on the defensive side of the ball.

At the beginning of the 3:00 practice session, Wiliams appeared, which was good news, but was wearing the white jersey of an offensive lineman.

Neuheisel, in his post-game comments, said he was impressed with Williams' quick feet. We had been told possibly not to expect too much from Williams, that he wasn't in superior shape having spent the summer working on his academics. But to our eyes, he looked good, indeed exhibiting good quickness for his size. And, in fact, he looks taller than advertised – a solid 6-1, if not 6-2.

For practice, the team was divided into two squads, with the 1s and 3s practicing from 3:00 to 4:30, and the 2s and 4s from 4:30 to 6:00. This way the players get more reps in front of the coaches. NCAA rules stipulate that a player can only practice once a day during this segment of fall practice, but there is no rule against the coaches participating in two practice sessions.

Probably the biggest development of the day were the two true freshman offensive linemen – Xavier Su'a-Filo and Stan Hasiak – immediately working with the first-string offensive linemen. Sua-Filo lined up at left tackle and Hasiak was at left guard, with the first-string filled out by Kai Maiava at center, Nick Ekbatani at right guard and Jeff Baca at right tackle. Neuheisel said not to read too much into it, that there will be quite a bit of mixing and matching throughout fall camp until the starting five is settled on, but it was significant that both true freshmen took the first snaps with the 1s.

Soph D-End Datone Jones.
We'll have Su'a-Filo's reaction after practice on video for you coming later Tuesday.

The quarterbacks generally had a typical first day's performance, looking a bit shaky at times, but then showing flashes. Starting quarterback Kevin Prince, as we reported in the off-season, looks more muscular, and more confident. In the second session, Kevin Craft and Richard Brehaut, had some good moments. Brehaut might have had the best day in terms of completing passes. Fourth-stringer and redshirt freshman Nick Crissman threw uninhibited for the first time since last fall after undergoing shoulder surgery and a long rehab.

Easily the play of the day was, of course, an interception by Alterraun Verner. Freshman receiver Ricky Marvray came down with a pass, but the veteran Verner snatched it out of his hands and went the other way.

Probably the second best play of the day was a run busted open by Milton Knox. The tailback blew threw the line on a counter and raced to the endzone, with Anthony Dye giving chase.

It could be our imagination, but it seemed that the offense worked out of of gun, or a "pistol," a little more often in practice Monday.

Second-team offensive line consisted of Micah Kia at left tackle, Darius Savage at left guard, Ryan Taylor at center, Williams at right guard and Sean Sheller at right tackle.

Sheller said he was feeling really good physically.

Freshman defensive end Keenan Graham told us he's up to 235 pounds, and looked it.

It's impossible to tell whether Damien Thigpen will actually end up a running back. Who knows at this point if he has the ability to run between the tackles, shed blocks, etc. But after one day of Thigpen going through the running back drills, it's clear that he's one of the quickest guys who has stepped foot on Spaulding Field in many years. His explosiveness is something to watch, and actually distracting; you tend to keep missing other parts of the practice watching him go through drills. When he went with the punt returners during the special teams portion of the practice, it was again distracting.

Johnathan Franklin might be competing with Nate Chandler for having the most jersey numbers during his UCLA career. He's only a redshirt freshman and Franklin is on his third. He started out last season #8, went to #12 in spring and is now #23.

Neuheisel, at his press conference earlier in the day, related how sophomore running back Derrick Coleman might have made the biggest leap forward in the off-season. Neuheisel said Coleman had less that 5% body fat now, at 6-0 and 230, and ran a sub 4.5 40. At practice, it was evident that Coleman had indeed trimmed down and looked a step quicker.

Freshman Dalton Hilliard, dressed in the defensive blue and had a wrap on his knee while working on the sideline, and looked healthy. He told us earlier in the day that he had knee surgery three weeks ago and felt ready to go.

Morrell Presley apparently suffered a little hamstring issue. Presley looks to be working primarily with the wide receivers.

We've said it before, but it bears repeating: freshman lineman Nik Abele is an imposing physical specimen. He's about 6-7, and a lean, cut 275 pounds.

We've heard that Jayson Allmond, the freshman fullback not being on the team yet is merely a paperwork issue that very well could be sorted out by today, and he could be on the practice field this week.

Attending practice was standout defensive back/receiver prospect Anthony Jefferson from Los Angeles Cathedral, and a name to possibly to remember – Tre Hale, the defensive tackle from La Verne Damien. Hale looked to be about 6-2 and 280ish. He reportedly had a good spring and summer at a few combines after sitting out his junior season because of injury.

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