Saturday Afternoon Practice Report

UCLA experiences a few injuries, and Rick Neuheisel talks about developing depth to compensate. The head coach also discussed how the defense is still ahead of the offense. An elite prospect attends practice in a UCLA sweatshirt...

Rick Neuheisel compared the Bruins' offense to the movie character Rocky, pounding on sides of beef in a meat locker, and the second of double-day sessions on Saturday at Spaulding did not get much more exhilarating than that. They got their work in and made some plays, but in 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s the defense still is doing a nice job scuttling the offense.

Complicating matters for the offense, guard/center Nick Ekbatani went down with a knee injury. The initial diagnosis on Ekbatani, the only lineman to start all 12 games last season, is a sprained medial collateral ligament. He will be out for at least a few days.

Here are Neuheisel's comments, after the session:

"Another good day. Legs are getting tired, all that kind of stuff, but we've just got to keep slugging away. I told Norm (Chow) during practice that we're like Rocky, slugging that meat in the locker, just kind of punching out. We're going to let them have a little rest (Sunday) morning, we're going to cancel the meetings in the morning, and we'll get after it again in the afternoon and be back out here hopefully for another spirited practice.

"But I like the progress. We'll keep evaluating ourselves as we go, but I like where we are."

Anything in particular that you really like?

"Well, the defense is still ahead of the offense, but it doesn't look like it's so one-sided. I think we're able to make some decent plays and we're not certainly trying to game plan them, but I think we're able to create some havoc. Now, we still have to get assignment locked down so that they're not shooting gaps and getting penetration, especially in our running game, that's the key. But as the assignments come together I think we we can start teeing off a little more. But I think we're more physical, and we have to be. Hopefully that's a sign of good things to come."

Any word on Nick Ekbatani?

"Initial prognosis is an MCL. We'll get him looked at, but he'll be down for a bit."

How far would that set things back in your offensive line?

"You hate to have injuries in your offensive line, but unfortunately that's part of the deal. Hopefully we can weather it. Someone is going to have to step, which is always that case."

Any word on Jess Ward's MRI?

"The MRI will be on Monday. I think, according to Jess, it's not significant, so hopefully we'll have him back certainly before the first game."

Andrew Abbott?


Is there anything to be taken that the quarterbacks still are allowed to make plays when they're getting flushed out of the pocket?

"Norm is trying to make a big point of, ‘keep the play going.' We don't let the defense hit him, so we're trying to create plays after the fact. We all watch SportsCenter, every weekend highlight reel is littered with people making plays after the fact so we're just trying to create some practice for that. That's what we're trying to get done. But ultimately, I'd like to see a little bit more protection so guys can stand in there and make reads down the field."

I heard you say, 'You've got to let them make a throw...'

"It's a bone of contention of mine."

You said it's not as one-sided, but what impresses you about what the defense is doing?

"Most of them are experienced. We've got a great amount of experience over there. They work their tails off. We've got strong kids and quick kids and fast kids and they're getting up the field and it creates havoc. We've got to find answers because we're going to play teams that have those same kinds of guys."

Kai Forbath had two kicks blocked...

"We've got to look at the protection, that's certainly an issue. Kai is usually pretty reliable through the uprights, but the ball has got to get airborne and that comes to the front, so we'll look at the tape and see exactly what happened. The last one it looked like Brian Price just stormed through either the A of B gap, which on one side of the coin I'm extremely happy about but on the other side of the coin I'm extremely perturbed."

You talked earlier about the consistency of tempo...

"That's everything. You just can't relax on the expectation of tempo."

What have you seen from Datone Jones?

"Exactly what we're trying to build in this program. A guy who comes in as a freshman and looks like he has great promise, gets some chances and then all of a sudden has a great off-season, works his tail off and is now developing into what I think is going to be a really good player in this conference. If our program can do that, now we'll get to enjoy his sophomore, his junior and hopefully his senior year, that's what we have to do. We have to go recruit those caliber of youngsters, who can compete both on and off the field and then watch them develop. That's been the hallmark of other programs, for sure."

Same thing with Akeem Ayers...

"Absolutely. That's what we're trying to develop within the entire program, not just with those two particular athletes."

Practice notes:

Freshman Stan McKay had the hit of the afternoon team period, sliding inside a block and leveling running back Jonathan Franklin.

With defensive tackle Jess Ward out with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, David Carter and Andy Keane took the tackle reps with the No. 2 defense.

The Bruins are not particular deep at the tackle spots – behind starters Brian Price and Jerzy Siewierski are Ward, Carter, Keane, Justin Edison and walk-on Justin Mann.

Keane, a fourth-year junior, has yet to play in a game. Edison, a third-year sophomore, has played sparingly and last season was in on one tackle.

The Bruins could look to make position changes to gain some depth there.

Ward missed some games in the 2007 season after suffering a partial tear of the posterior collateral ligament, but that was in his left knee.

Terrence Austin mishandled a punt during special teams and consequently had to do 50 push ups, which, at the urging of Neuheisel, were counted out by fans in the bleachers.

Quarterback Kevin Prince missed on some throws, and had some others dropped (one in a red zone sequence by tight end Cory Harkey). He had a nice pass into the right end zone to Logan Paulsen, but when Paulsen came down he was out of bounds.

Gardena Serra's Paul Richardson.
The No. 1 offensive line remained unchanged – Kai Maiava at center, freshman Stan Hasiak and junior college transfer Eddie Williams at guard and freshman Xavier Su'a-Filo and Jeff Baca at the tackles. Behind that group, line coach Bob Palcic continues to look at a lot of players and combinations, with Ekbatani getting time at No. 2 center before he was injured, with Darius Savage and Brandon Bennett at the guards and Micah Kia and Brett Downey at the tackles.

Milton Knox made a nice play on an under-thrown pass from Prince, who was scrambling to his right and fluttered a pass down field. Knox was wide open running down the right sideline because the defense busted coverage, and had to come back to the ball and make a diving catch on the play.

Linebacker Steve Sloan and cornerback Andrew Abbott were held out with concussions.

Serra High receiver Paul Richardson was at the practice, along with Serra's elite junior receiver, George Farmer.. At one point Richardson made an oral commitment to UCLA, but reopened his recruitment. For what it's worth, he was wearing a UCLA sweatshirt.

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