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Pac-10 Q&A: UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow

8/20/2010

UCLA's Norm Chow is widely regarded as one of the best offensive coordinators of all-time. Despite that pedigree, things haven't exactly rolled on offense his first two seasons in Westwood.

Injury issues as well as a lack of inherited talent have slowed the Bruins' development. The biggest problem: The lack of a dependable running game due to poor line play. An experiment with Nevada's pistol offense, which was intended to bolster the running game, appears to have been cut short as preseason camp has gone on.

Recruiting under third-year coach Rick Neuheisel has picked up substantially, though mostly in terms of collecting skill players. It hasn't helped that the yield of elite offensive linemen on the West Coast over the past two years has been surprisingly low.

Still, the Bruins expect to take a step forward in 2010. The biggest issue in preseason camp so far: Getting starting quarterback Kevin Prince healthy. He's missed nine practices with a strained oblique and probably won't participate in the scrimmage Saturday.

So where do things stand with the Bruins' work-in-progress offense? We checked in with Chow.

So where is QB Kevin Prince with his strained oblique and when does that become a concern with the opening game approaching?

Norm Chow: He is right there. If we err, we're going to err on the side of caution. He's ready to go. He's had a great summer. He's been to all the meetings. He stayed with it mentally. He's going to be fine.

In general, where do things stand with the pistol offense? Are you seeing improvement since spring?

NC: We sure have. We obviously haven't adopted it totally. But the parts that we do, we like. Hopefully it will allow us to run the ball better.

How much option do you anticipate using?

NC: Quarterback option? Not too much, if any.

You guys have taken some hits on the offensive line. What have you seen from that unit this spring? What are they doing well and what are they struggling with?

NC: We're actually real pleased with our offensive of line. Our two guards [Darius Savage and Eddie Williams] both played last year, started some last year. Our center [Kai Maiava] is back from last year. Our right tackle is actually a sixth-year player [Micah Kia] who was hurt last year, who started before. Our starting left tackle at the present time has been a guy who it kind of took a while to figure out college and college football but is doing a nice job. And that's Sean Sheller. We have four seniors and a junior on the offensive line. They bring us leadership. They bring us maturity. We feel real good about it. The concern of it is, as it always is in a college program, is when you get someone hurt. We have some adequate backups, but they need to continue to develop just in case.

Explain the "F" position to me. You've got a lot of different body types at that spot on the depth chart.

NC: It's an old H-back deal. It's nothing new; no new revelation. It's the old H-back that a lot of people have used. It's a guy who can catch, who can block, who can run a little bit. We're blessed that we've got some talented people who can handle that: Morrell Presley, Christian Ramirez, Anthony Barr -- a young freshman who just came in -- they are very talented guys. We feel like we've got that position pretty well covered

Seems like you've got plenty of potential playmakers. Who's impressed you so far in camp?

NC: Our receivers are older and wiser. This is Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario's third year playing and starting for us. Ricky Marvray and Randall Carroll have had tremendous camps. Then we have a transfer from Colorado who has to fight through some injury stuff, Josh Smith, who was a nice player at Colorado. So we have five that we think are good receivers. We just have to see how the game develops. Obviously if we are able to run the ball, it opens up the passing game and allow these guys to show their stuff.

Are the touted freshman, Jordan James and Malcolm Jones, going to break into the rotation at tailback, or are Derrick Coleman and Johnathan Franklin still ahead?

NC: We don't have to make that decision today. We have three weeks before we play a ballgame. Jordan James got cut short with a little hamstring pull. Malcolm Jones has had a terrific fall. He's certainly challenging the other two, but the other two have played well as well. So it's a nice situation to have. With injuries, and so forth we'll probably need them all. I'm sure Malcolm will have a real hand in the rotation we come up with.

Overall, how close do you feel your guys are to breaking through?

NC: I don't know. If I did know that, I probably wouldn't be coaching. I'll tell you what we have done: Our young guys have worked real hard. We've had a good summer. We lost the weight we needed to. We got stronger. We're excited about it. We'll just have to wait and see. We temper our enthusiasm because we play a really difficult schedule. I've heard it's the third toughest in the NCAA. But we're going to meet that challenge. We're excited about that challenge. We'll see what happens.