Passing Game is Sharp Wednesday

The passing game put together another strong outing at Wednesday's afternoon practice, but the offensive line suffered another potentially serious injury. Linebacker Akeem Ayers had a big day jumping routes...

Wednesday's practice saw more scrimmaging, both live and thudding, and, as it tends to do, it resulted in another injury.

With only a few minutes left to go in the practice, during the live period, offensive lineman Micah Kia went down with a right knee injury. He was then carted off the field. Rick Neuheisel said he would have an MRI, but UCLA hasn't released any information since.

It is a blow to UCLA"s offensive line. While Stan Hasiak, the freshman, looked to have won the starting left guard position, Kia was subbing in for him with the first-string offensive line. While the coaches say that it didn't necessarily mean anything – that they were still experimenting – it did seem like the plan was emerging for Hasiak and Kia to platoon at left guard. It make sense; Kia, with his long-ailing back, could provide maybe 20 snaps a game, which would give relief to the frosh Hasiak. Put them together and they might have combined for some very effective play from the left guard position.

It's the age-old argument. Just how much live action in practice is worth it? It seems that UCLA, and many college teams, suffer serious injuries that set them back in fall camp, before the team ever makes it to the first game. And the live scrimmages are the main culprit. On one hand, there is the argument that you have to put the team in live action to get them used to the speed and hitting – but it has to become a negative sum game when you consider how much you're risking in terms of serious injury.

Starting center Kai Maiva also sat out about half of practice with a nicked up shoulder. Neuheisel said it wasn't serious.

The offense on Wednesday had a fairly solid day. The passing game fared well while the running game had some moments. Quarterback Kevin Prince was sharp for the most part. As we've said, he throws a very pretty long ball and continued to do so Wednesday. Kevin Craft got an increased amount of reps with the 2s, and it was a typical performance. He made a great throw to tight end Logan Paulsen, splitting defenders, hitting Paulsen perfectly in the hands for a touchdown. But then later in practice he threw an interception, and then almost threw another one on a careless throw on a screen.

Christian Ramirez, participating in his first full practice after another hamstring injury, looked sluggish. Ramirez is big – at 6-2 and 220 -- but there is some question of whether he has, first, the durability to be UCLA's primary tailback, and secondly the toughness to run between the tackles.

There are those around the program that feel it's a matter of time before Derrick Coleman becomes the primary guy in the backfield, the workhorse.

Wednesday's practice kind of reflected that. Ramirez didn't look very physical, while Coleman likes to hit people.

Also looking good was Johnathan Franklin, who busted a couple of runs squirting through holes.

The wide receivers had a good day as a group. Terrence Austin had a number of very good catches. Morrell Presley might have had his best showing at practice as a Bruin, catching a few tough balls in traffic. He had one shoe-string catch, and then another where the ball was tipped out of his hands, but he brought it back in. Freshman Ricky Marvray had a great catch, going up and over cornerback Andrew Abbott in the endzone for a touchdown. He had another one on broken coverage, where Richard Brehaut found him running un-covered down the middle of the field. Jerry Johnson looks stronger and more focused this fall, and caught a nice touchdown pass where the ball was tipped and he brought it down in the endzone.

The competition to make the five-man receiver rotation is getting interesting. While the rotation can definitely change during the season, coaches like to have their top five guys that they prepare a game plan for from week to week – the guys who get most of the playing time. Austin and Taylor Embree are shoe-ins; Gavin Ketchum, despite sitting out due to a hamstring, is almost certainly among the top five, being one of the best route runners and almost certainly the best downfield blocker of the bunch; Norm Chow likes Nelson Rosario and the potential of his length and athleticism, it's just a matter of Rosario playing with more fire.

So, it's a great thing for the UCLA program that the final fifth spot is going to be fought over by the likes of Presley, Randall Carroll and Ricky Marvray – not to mention Johnson and Antwon Moutra.

There is some thought that the coaches are holding up the "five-man rotation" as a motivating factor for the receivers, and that more than five will be utilized. It makes sense, since it would be ludicrous to keep either Presley or Carroll off the field because of some arbitrary rotation limitation. Carroll absolutely has to play, with his speed and ability to stretch the field.

The tight ends are getting utilized more and more. Logan Paulsen caught a couple of throws (including the nicest one throw by Craft); Ryan Moya showed his old flair in making the catch and gaining YAC; Cory Harkey will make an exceptional play but then drop a ball soon after, but physically he's a tough match-up; and then perhaps one of the best surprises of camp has been the play of Nate Chandler, who has shown very soft hands an a penchant for hitting people.

The offense had a very good period in 11-on-11 in the redzone.

Prince hit Chane Moline on a quick out for six yards.
Prince then hit Austin on a slant for a touchdown.
Prince hit Rosario on a sharply-run out for a touchdown.

The 2s then came in, and Franklin went through the middle and stayed on his feet for a gain of six yards.
Brehaut, on a roll, scrambled and scored a touchdown.

Defensively, there was quite a bit of mixing and matching going on between the first and second strings. With safety Tony Dye out, Glenn Love got most of the reps at strong safety. Then Dalton Hilliard, now out of his red jersey, got most of the reps with the twos in place of Aaron Ware; since the coaches are familiar with Ware they wanted to give some time to Hilliard to get him up to speed and see what he could do. Stan McKay is solidly in the two-deep right now.

Alterraun Verner showed again Wednesday why he's considered a pre-season All-American, consistently providing tough man-to-man coverage, jumping routes, etc.

Perhaps the other defensive player who had a great day was linebacker Akeem Ayers. Ayers has the size of a strongside linebacker, with the quickness of a weakside linebacker, and he uses that burst and speed to take advantage of tight ends in coverage. He jumped a couple of routes Wednesday, with one resulting in a pick.

Steven Sloan was in a red jersey, but participating in the team drills that didn't involved contact (mostly 7-on-7).

Walk-on Ian Davis, Bruce Davis' little brother, looks like he's been moved to weakside linebacker from defensive end.

The second string linebackers are Sloan in the middle, Donovan Carter on the strongside and Sean Westgate on the weakside. Third string is Patrick Larimore at middle linebacker, with Mike Schmitt at strongside and walk-on Frank Guzman at weakside.

Safety Rahim Moore had a big hit at the line of scrimmage. Aaron Hester made a few good plays in coverage. Back-up defensive tackle Justin Edison made a good stop at the line. Starting d-tackle Jerzy Siewierski had a sack on a busted play.

Punter Jeff Locke attempted some field goals, and made what observers thought was a 50-yarder, and then missed one left. Locke, a lefty, puts good air under his field goals. It's good to know that UCLA has someone like Locke to potentially kick field goals behind Kai Forbath.

Elite 2011 defensive end prospect, Greg Townsend, from Beverly Hills (Calif.) High, attended practice, and intends to come to Saturday's scrimmage.

Smilingjeffrey, one of the more football-learned posters on the BRO premium message board, provides his observations of practice.

***Wednesday Photo Gallery***

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