Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Five questions before fall camp
By Blair Angulo
Less than a week remains until UCLA's Spaulding Field becomes a hotbed for whistles, two-minute drills and position battles. Coach Rick Neuheisel sounded eager to begin his third fall camp when he spoke to reporters at Pac-10 media day last week. So did star safety Rahim Moore, the player representative who made sure every reporter knew he couldn't wait to get going.
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel and star safety Rahim Moore are itching to get back on Spaulding Field.
So while you wait for Aug. 9, we have five camp-related questions that need some clarification before kick-off at Kansas State on Sept. 4:
1. Who will return punts and kickoffs?
Josh Smith appeared to be the clear-cut favorite to succeed Terrence Austin, but that was before Smith went down with knee injury early in the spring. The transfer from Colorado has the necessary intangibles -- the quickness, elusiveness, creativity, vision -- and though he has to work his way back, an ongoing recovery seems to be his biggest competition. Neuheisel told reporters at Pac-10 media day that Smith will be brought on slowly when fall camp begins.
Receivers Randall Carroll and Taylor Embree and tailback Damien Thigpen should also get a look, though Smith was the only one that ran away from coverage during spring drills. You need that from a return specialist.
2. Will this team settle on a No. 1 running back before the start of the season?
Don't worry if you are stumped with this one -- even Neuheisel sounded unsure at media day. Three tailback transfers in three years -- Raymond Carter (Colorado State), Aundre Dean (Texas Christian) and Milton Knox (Fresno State) -- makes it seem as if the next Maurice Jones-Drew mans UCLA's backfield. That's not the case at all.
Redshirt senior Christian Ramirez was handed the starting job last summer, but he lost it before fall camp ended. Redshirt sophomore Johnathan Franklin and junior Derrick Coleman have the inside edge based on experience alone. Yet Neuheisel believes freshmen Malcolm Jones (Agoura Hills, Calif./Oaks Christian) and Jordon James (Corona, Calif./Corona) could make things interesting.
3. Who will be stuck in the middle: Steve Sloan or Patrick Larimore?
The battle at middle linebacker is perhaps the closest and most intriguing. Sloan has the size, Larimore has the speed. Sloan can hit harder, Larimore can hit quicker. These two went back and forth in the spring and figure to continue competing throughout the fall. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough likes both equally.
Sloan has more experience, having made nine starts as a redshirt freshman in 2008. Larimore did well on special teams last season, but handled the increased reps he got in the spring well. Whoever emerges from camp with the job figures to be an upgrade from Reggie Carter, who ran around on bad legs all of last season.
Opposing teams will have more success running up the middle with the departure of elite interior lineman Brian Price to the NFL. The Mike linebacker therefore becomes much more crucial in run-stopping situations.
4. Which freshman will separate himself from the others?
Moore has his favorites. Citing the team's 7-on-7 summer workouts, Moore clearly distinguished those who have raised some eyebrows: Anthony Barr, Tevin McDonald, Dietrich Riley and Jordan Zumwalt.
A few more to keep track of: Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Cassius Marsh, Aramide Olaniyan and Anthony Jefferson.
5. To what extent will newcomer Darius Bell be utilized?
This answer hinges on whether UCLA's new "revolver" offensive package is really meant for quarterback Kevin Prince. Speculation about the alignment's intent began to build when Bell, a transfer from San Francisco City College, was rumored to be coming to Westwood. The brother of former Bruin tailback Khalil Bell combined for 2,733 all-purpose yards last year -- so he may be an option in the run-oriented scheme.
Additionally, Neuheisel may redshirt backup Richard Brehaut if Bell thrives and shows he can handle whatever offensive coordinator Norm Chow throws at him.