Injuries could open door for UCLA QB Craft

July, 11, 2008
7/11/08
3:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

At some point, the odds surely will swing in a positive direction and a UCLA quarterback won't get hurt. But who knows if that karmic transformation has arrived?

That's why the return of Ben Olson from a foot injury in time for the beginning of preseason practices doesn't guarantee much of anything, particularly considering his injury-plagued past.

That's also why most Bruins fans are already aware of Kevin Craft, even though he only arrived in Westwood at the beginning of spring practices. More than a few figure he'll at some point be running the UCLA offense.

"That's a really exciting thought," Craft said. "I don't think that's a scary thought because that's not the way I've been raised to play the game."

 
 AP Photo/The Daily Bruin, Leigh Alvarez
 With Patrick Cowan and Ben Olson on crutches, QB Kevin Craft started the Bruins' spring game.

Of course, things were pretty scary on Black Thursday, when Olson and Patrick Cowan, who'd just days before been designated the starter, both went down with serious injuries within moments of each other at the tail end of spring drills. Cowan was lost for all of 2008 with a knee injury, and Olson has only returned to full speed this month.

Craft, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound transfer from Mt. San Antonio College, chose UCLA over Hawaii and SMU, and with two years of eligibility remaining and two experienced seniors ahead of him, most figured he'd redshirt.

That impression didn't change much when he was mostly inconsistent and overwhelmed during spring practices.

The overwhelmed part may change when preseason practices begin. Craft said he's found a comfort level with both Norm Chow's offense and his teammates.

"The first day I got to school here was one of our first spring practices -- I didn't know anyone on the team and I had no idea what was going on with the offense," he said. "So I'm just a little bit more comfortable with the offense and terminology, but more importantly I'm a lot more comfortable with all the guys on the team."

Craft should pick things up quicker than most. For one, he's seen action at the Division I-A level, having started his career at San Diego State, where he was forced onto the field because of injuries as a redshirt freshman in 2006.

Also, he's a coach's son. He played for his father, Tom Craft, at San Diego State and then Mt. SAC.

"I think it really does help because of all the time I've spent around the game," he said. "All the times he's been coaching and I've been on the sidelines watching. Or we're driving home in the car and we'd always talk about football. All the time he spent framing things, especially the quarterback position for me. We'd work on throwing when I was a little kid. I definitely think it helped me and gave me a really strong foundation for when I decided to play quarterback."

There are downsides to being a college coach's son, though, such as playing for your father when he gets fired. The younger Craft remained at San Diego State for a year under new coach Chuck Long but ultimately decided he needed to get away.

"It was difficult," he said. "That's my family, so (the firing) was different for me than it was for the other guys on the team. I wanted things to work out down there. But there's also just a small window of opportunity in college."

Craft, who threw 44 touchdown passes for Mt. SAC last season, completed 11 of 24 passes for 95 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the Bruins spring game.

That's not good enough, particularly for a perfectionist offensive coordinator like Chow.

Craft, just a twist, strain or tear away from the starting job, believes he'll find his rhythm in the coming weeks and earn his coaches and teammates confidence.

"If you have any doubt, you shouldn't be out there," he said.

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