Pac-12: Aaron Perez

UCLA spring wrap-up

May, 8, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

UCLA Bruins
2008 overall record: 4-8

2008 conference record: 3-6

Returning starters

Offense 9, defense 7, punter/kicker 1

Top returners

TE Logan Paulsen, WR Terrence Austin, K Kai Forbath, LB Reggie Carter, CB Alterraun Verner, DT Brian Price, FS Rahim Moore

Key losses

DT Brigham Harwell, CB Michael Norris, P Aaron Perez

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Kahlil Bell (397)
Passing: Kevin Craft* (2,341)
Receiving: Taylor Embree* (531)
Tackles: Reggie Carter* (83)
Sacks: Korey Bosworth* (7)
Interceptions: Michael Norris, Rahim Moore* (3)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule

Sep. 5 San Diego State
Sep. 12 at Tennessee
Sep. 19 Kansas State
Oct. 3 at Stanford
Oct. 10 Oregon
Oct. 17 California
Oct. 24 at Arizona
Oct. 31 at Oregon State
Nov. 7 Washington
Nov. 14 at Washington State
Nov. 21 Arizona State
Nov. 28 at USC

1. Prince gets crowned: While Kevin Prince wasn't terribly good in any of the Bruins' three scrimmages, he did enough during practices to elevate himself above true freshman Richard Brehaut and last year's starter Kevin Craft. Prince has a lot of upside, and it will be a major upset if he doesn't end up the starter against San Diego State.

2. Plenty of runners: While the running game didn't get untracked this spring, the general feeling is that isn't because of a lack of talent at tailback. While expected starter Christian Ramirez sat out, sophomores Raymond Carter and Derrick Coleman and redshirt freshmen Johnathan Franklin and Milton Knox each had their moments. The crowd may get thinned a bit with sophomore Aundre Dean apparently thinking about transferring.

3. Stars on D: The Bruins defense looked good all spring, and there's star power at each level with tackle Brian Price, linebacker Reggie Carter and cornerback Alterraun Verner. The secondary, in particular, looked good with several youngsters ready to contribute or even challenge for starting jobs, including sophomores Courtney Viney and Tony Dye and redshirt freshman E.J. Woods.

Fall questions

1. Is there any hope for the O-line? The line was awful this spring just as it was last fall. There's plenty of experience with six returnees who started at least five games in 2008, though two sat out spring practices with injuries. And there's plenty of incoming possibilities, with touted freshmen and JC transfers arriving in the fall to offer alternatives. It feels like the Bruins' bowl hopes rest almost entirely on whether this unit can find some answers.

2. D-line depth: The Bruins starting crew of tackles Price and Jerzy Siewierski and ends Korey Bosworth and Datone Jones form one of the better foursomes in the Pac-10, but depth, especially at tackle, needs to develop. An injury or two here and things get pretty thin.

3. Playmakers on offense: If the offensive line figures things out, and Prince comes through, then somebody has to do something with the football in the passing game. During spring practices, the performance of the receivers was mediocre to bad, though true freshman hybrid tight end/receiver Morrell Presley lived up to his hype. If the veterans don't step up, then a strong incoming freshman class -- including speedster Randall Carroll -- is going to move up quickly.

Two more sign free agent contracts

May, 4, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

UCLA punter Aaron Perez and safety Bret Locket both signed free agent contracts today.

Perez signed with the New England Patriots, while Locket signed with the Cleveland Browns.

I'd be shocked if Perez doesn't have a long career in the NFL as a punter. He was a huge weapon for UCLA last year -- recall coach Rick Neuheisel's "punting is winning" quip.

You can follow free agent signings here.

Free-agent signings thus far

April, 28, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

A list of free-agent signings, though more are likely to come.

LB Ronnie Palmer, Washington Redskins
S Nate Ness, Cleveland Browns
CB Marquis Hundley, St. Louis Rams

Arizona State
QB Rudy Carpenter, Dallas Cowboys
WR Michael Jones, Houston Texans

DE Rulon Davis, Denver Broncos
LB Anthony Felder, San Diego Chargers
FB Will Ta'ufo'ou, Chicago Bears

RB Jeremiah Johnson, Houston Texans
OL Mark Lewis, Miami Dolphins
WR Jaison Williams, Washington Redskins

Oregon State
WR Shane Morales, Arizona Cardinals
OT Tavita Thompson, New York Jets
SS Greg Laybourn, invited to New Orleans Saints minicamp

QB Pat Cowan, New Orleans Saints
DT Brigham Harwell, Washington Redskins
RB Kahlil Bell, Minnesota Vikings
SS Bret Lockett, invited to Green Bay Packers minicamp
P Aaron Perez, invited to New England Patriots minicamp

DE Gerald Washington, Buffalo Bills

C Juan Garcia, invited to Minnesota Vikings minicamp

Washington State
TE Devin Frischknecht, Washington Redskins

The Pac-10: Conference of the Punt Team

November, 7, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

Remember when UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel told a national television audience that "punting is winning" as he headed to the halftime locker room during the Bruins game with Tennessee?

Oh, if only it were. Then the Pac-10 might rule college football.

The Pac-10 features four punters ranked among the nation's top 25:

8. Keenyn Crier, Arizona 44.70
10. Aaron Perez, UCLA 44.39
14. Bryan Anger, California 43.89
23. Josh Syria, Oregon 42.49

That's more than the SEC (3), Big 12 (2) and Big Ten (2) and the ACC (zip).

The Big East also has four.

But the tiebreaker for becoming the one, true Conference of Punt Team is punt returns.

The Pac-10 features five punt returners ranked among the nation's top-25.

8. Kyle Williams, Arizona State 15.56
10. Jairus Byrd, Oregon 15.58
12. Mike Thomas, Arizona 13.43
15. Stafon Johnson, USC 12.82
25. Syd'Quan Thompson, California 11.27

That's more than anyone else. So there you have it.

The league formerly known as the Conference of Quarterbacks and sometimes called the Conference of Centers is now the Conference of the Punt Team.

It's not as catchy but it's something, right?

Pac-10 midseason report: UCLA

October, 16, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

Few teams soared so high and then tumbled so quickly as UCLA (2-4, 1-2 Pac-10) in the first half of the season.

The Bruins were projected by a lot of folks to finish in the bottom third of the Pac-10 after losing their top two quarterbacks and two starting offensive linemen before preseason practices even began. But they opened with a shocking overtime win over Tennessee in Rick Neuheisel's debut coaching his alma mater.

For an encore, they lost 59-zip at BYU.

And then they lost at home 31-10 to Arizona and 36-31 to Fresno State, a game in which the school's marketing department aggressively tried to lure Bulldogs fans to the Rose Bowl, presumably to cheer against the home team who pays their salaries.

The Fresno game, however, hinted that the Bruins were improving, as did a scrappy effort last weekend at Oregon.

A 25-point win over Washington State showed that there's plenty of room between UCLA and the bottom of the conference, but the Bruins are trying to move up with an overmatched offensive line, a young secondary and injury issues.

Offensive MVP: Punter Aaron Perez ranks second in the Pac-10 with a 43.8-yard average and 13 of his 40 punts have gone for 50-plus yards. He also has had 11 punts downed inside an opponent's 20-yard line. Perez has consistently helped the Bruins win the field position battle, particularly early in the year when the offense was anemic.

Defensive MVP: Cornerback Alterraun Verner got roughed up at BYU, but otherwise he's played at a high level. He ranks third on the defense with 40 tackles and has two interceptions and seven other pass breakups.

What's next: If UCLA has ideas of a making a surprising surge toward bowl eligibility, it's going to need to beat Stanford this weekend. Otherwise, prospects look mostly grim.

Quarterback Kevin Craft has improved -- he's thrown only two interceptions since throwing four in the first half against Tennessee -- but the Bruins offense is unlikely to solve across-the-board issues this fall. And the offensive woes haven't helped a defense that is using a lot of young players and is giving up nearly 31 points per game.

The redletter date on the schedule is a Nov. 15 visit to Washington, which unceremoniously fired Neuheisel before the 2003 season. A win in Seattle in front of beleaguered Huskies fans, who surely will remember Neuheisel's masterful coaching job during the 2000 Rose Bowl season, would insure the Bruins don't finish in the conference basement.

Pac-10 players of the week

October, 6, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, California defensive end Cameron Jordan and Cal punter Bryan Anger were named Pac-10 Players of the Week on Monday.

Sanchez, a senior from Mission Viejo, Calif., was 19-of-28 (.679) for 332 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in the Trojans 44-10 win over No. 23 Oregon. His scoring passes covered 34, 63 and 11 yards. USC rolled up 598 yards total offense, including 443 yards passing and were forced to punt only one time.

This is the third time this year Sanchez has earned player of the week honors.

Jordan and Anger played key roles in California's 24-14 win against Arizona State.

Jordan, a sophomore from Chandler, Ariz., made the most of his first start, posting eight tackles -- five solo -- including three tackles for loss (-8) and two quarterback sacks (-7) and forced a fumble. The Cal defense limited Arizona State to 236 yards total offense (71 rushing, 165 passing), just 4-of-16 on third-down conversion attempts, forced three turnovers and posted three quarterback sacks (-22).

Anger, a freshman from Camarillo, Calif., averaged 47.4 yards on seven punts, including a career-long 72-yard boot. Three of Anger's seven punts were downed inside the Arizona State 10-yard line.

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were tight ends Rob Gronkowski of Arizona and Ryan Moya of UCLA and tailback Shane Vereen of California. Also nominated on defense were backs Alterraun Verner of UCLA, Kevin Ellison of USC and Devin Ross of Arizona. Kicker David Buehler of USC, punter Aaron Perez of UCLA and punt returner Mike Thomas of Arizona were nominated for special teams play.

Pac-10 Internal Affairs

August, 27, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

Five looks inside this week's games.

USC: Trojans QB Mark Sanchez has been cleared to play at Virginia, but it's not unreasonable to wonder about how his formerly dislocated knee will hold up amid the rigors of game conditions. That's why news that Aaron Corp had eclipsed Mitch Mustain for the backup job is so important. Sanchez may play every meaningful snap this season -- or he might be knocked out the first time his knee takes a hit. It seemed like the USC coaches wanted Mustain, who saw significant action at Arkansas before transferring, to win the job, but he mixed too many mistakes into his repetitions while Corp seemed to get more and more confident.

Washington: The first quarter should be very telling at Autzen Stadium. The Huskies will start four freshmen, including true freshmen at TB and DT, and only six seniors. Many others will be seeing their first significant college action inside the most hostile venue in the Pac-10 -- and the nation, for that matter. Will the youngsters hold up, or will they make critical mistakes that irrevocably turn the momentum early? Of course, last year's game was tied at 24 after three quarters before the Ducks exploded in the fourth to finish off a 55-34 win, so how the Huskies young defensive front holds up late against a rugged, seasoned Ducks O-line will be just as critical.

Oregon: While the Oregon defense is being celebrated for its secondary, the Ducks scheme priority is stopping the run (which is why the Ducks gave up a misleading amount of passing yards last season -- see opponent's completion percentage (53) and INTs (20) for a better measure of the secondary). But the up-the-middle defense is suspect, with two new DTs and a MLB, John Bacon, coming off knee surgery. The Huskies OL is strong inside, so a good way to quiet the Autzen Stadium crowd -- and play keep-away from the Ducks potent spread offense -- might be to run right at the Ducks.

Oregon State: The Oregon State defensive front seven features entirely new starters, and the Beavers are notorious for their uneven early-season performances, but Stanford might offer a perfect test. For one, the Cardinal offense was the worst in the Pac-10 a year ago and was missing two starters before preseason camp began: TE Jim Dray and OT Allen Smith. Second, the injury bug hit late in camp, with starting guard Gustav Rystedt knocked out with a concussion and a pair of WRs, Chris Owusu and Marcus Rance, sidelined with knee injuries. Moreover, RB Toby Gerhart and WR Richard Sherman, the offense's two biggest playmakers, are banged up, though they should play. Since Stanford wasn't the deepest of teams in the first place, this patched-up offense figures to offer a less-than-imposing test for the rebuilt Beavers to find their game rhythm.

UCLA: It's almost impossible to imagine UCLA scoring many points against Tennessee on Monday night. So, the real issue is can the Bruins defense and special teams keep the game close? It bodes well that Tennessee is breaking in a new QB, junior Jonathan Crompton. The good news mostly ends there, though. First, problem: The Vols welcome back four OL starters -- a combined 62 starts -- from a crew that surrendered only four sacks last year (an NCAA record), and TB Arian Foster eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. The WRs also are experienced. As for special teams, the Vols appeared severely hurt when All-SEC punter Britton Colquitt was suspended for five games, but his replacement, Chad Cunningham, has been a revelation in preseason camp. So big-footed Aaron Perez probably won't give the Bruins as much advantage as originally thought.

UCLA musings: Punt Bruins, punt

August, 17, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- Some more thoughts from UCLA's Saturday evening scrimmage.

Know just about every reporter on hand beat up on the offense, and it was hard not to. But here are two critical things: 1. The defense is good. 2. Punter Aaron Perez owns a big foot (see the monstrous 58-yard boot he launched into the stratosphere on his first punt).

That's a great combination to have because it means a team can focus on the field position game and not take stupid chances on offense.

And if the defense can force a few extra turnovers while winning the field position battle of attrition that can mean short fields for the offense -- and probably a lot of 40-plus-yard field goal attempts from kicker Kai Forbath.

I remember watching Washington State punter Kyle Basler earn Holiday Bowl MVP honors in the Cougars 28-20 win over Texas. Basler killed five of his seven punts inside the Texas 15, including four inside the 5. The Cougs wouldn't have won without him.

The point: A good defense and good punter can keep a team with an anemic offense in a lot of games.

  • Speaking of Forbath .... he had a forgettable day. His 53-yard field goal attempt fell short and left, and he had another attempt blocked. My guess is that was a blip, considering Forbath was lights out last season.
  • If both stay healthy, I wouldn't be surprised if the first-team All-Pac-10 DTs are Brian Price and Brigham Harwell. Neither recorded any of the Bruins eight sacks, but Price was putting a world of hurt on whichever poor soul was trying to block him. And my best guess at the up the middle rushing yards with both in the scrimmage was ... zero.
  • While he saw bonus action because of a banged up receiving corps, freshman receiver Nelson Rosario -- all 6-foot-4 of him -- looked like a guy who could help this season (three receptions, 40 yards).
  • Washington fans might be interesting to know that former Huskies LB Derrell Daniels is working operations for UCLA with Neuheisel and wants to get into college coaching. Daniels, the Huskies starting inside LB during the 2000 season (Rose Bowl), said that a crew of Southern California Huskies went out to dinner with Neuheisel (the legendary El Cholo in Santa Monica), including Hakim Akbar, Matt Rogers, Pat Reddick, Chris Massey, Ken Walker and others.
  • Finally, UCLA fans on the brink of an emotional breakdown over the Bruins offense should keep in mind that preseason scrimmages aren't terribly revealing. Walking through downtown Westwood last night looking for a late dinner, I tried to remember the last time I saw a team look great in a scrimmage. Couldn't remember one. The play-selection is watered down and the vanilla schemes typically favor a defense. Moreover, offensive coordinator Norm Chow seemed most bothered afterwards by logistical issues with his offense -- coordination with the coaching staff and players, etc. -- than the actual performance.

Best case-worst case: UCLA

August, 15, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

This is the eighth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting from the top of our preseason power rankings and working down.

Up next: UCLA

Best case

When Tennessee's 44-yard interception return of a Kevin Craft pass gives the Volunteers a 10-0 first-quarter lead, most UCLA fans sigh and start thinking about what will surely be a long slog of a season.

But things settle down, and a defensive struggle begins that looks a little bit like a typical high-level SEC game -- incompetent offenses making good defenses look great.

When Brigham Harwell forces a Tennessee fumble on a sack halfway through the second quarter, the Bruins can only advance 17 yards to the Vols' 30. But that is enough for kicker Kai Forbath to get UCLA on the board.

The 10-3 score holds through nearly the entire third quarter. Then Craft finds Marcus Everett behind the coverage for 42 yards to the Vols 18. On third-and-8, Kahlil Bell slashes through a small gap in the defense for a 16-yard touchdown on the last play of the third to knot the score at 10-10.

The teams play field position with a series of punt exchanges, and the Bruins' Aaron Perez pins Tennessee back on its 12 with five minutes left.

But Vols running back Arian Foster breaks a tackle and scampers 42 yards into UCLA territory. That seems to energize the Vols offensive front. Five Foster carries later, and they're inside the Bruins 20 with the clock ticking away. The defense stiffens, but the 34-yard field goal gives Tennessee a 13-10 lead.

Craft and the Bruins start off well in their 2-minute offense, but stall at mid-field. Tennessee escapes.

Still, the game showed the Bruins a recipe for success: Play good defense and special teams; don't make mistakes on offense.

That was on display as they won four in a row, including sound beatings of ranked BYU and Fresno State teams. Through five games, the defense is yielding just 9.8 points per contest -- a point less than a certain cross-town rival.

A trip to Oregon doesn't go so well, though. A year after shutting out the Ducks, the Bruins get sliced and diced in a 31-17 defeat.

A solid win over Stanford is followed by a lackluster performance at California. After the game, a triangle of tirade is formed in the minute visiting locker room at Cal, with Rick Neuheisel, DeWayne Walker and even mild-mannered Norm Chow lighting into the Bruins.

Mediocrity will not be accepted. On Sunday, Ben Olson, back from his preseason foot injury, is announced as the new starting quarterback.

And a pair of stellar performances follows in wins over Oregon State and Washington that make the Bruins bowl-eligible.

After an overtime loss to Arizona State, the hated Trojans come to town.

For three quarters UCLA fans envision another 2006 -- see an identical 13-9 lead. But two fourth-quarter TD passes from Mark Sanchez cut short the upset bid.

That means a return trip to the Las Vegas Bowl. The opponent: Utah.

Without speaking, Neuheisel fires up the giant screen on Sunday and plays a repeating spool of highlights from the 2007 game between the teams: a 44-6 humiliation at Utah.

UCLA comes out frothing at the mouth. Olson throws four TD passes and the Bruins celebrate redemption, 37-10.

On Feb. 4, the recruiting rankings come out. USC again ranks No. 1.

But UCLA ranks fifth. 

Worst case

Sometimes preseason worries prove unfounded. Other times not.

With UCLA, concerns proved valid: The offensive line just didn't have the horses to help the Bruins score. And scoring is necessary, no matter how good a defense is.

Tennessee pitches a shutout, winning 17-zip and sacking Kevin Craft six times. Things are no better at BYU, which is hungry to make a statement for a BCS bowl berth. This time the Bruins go down, 24-3.

Arizona yields a touchdown, but rolls, 28-10.

No breaks on the schedule to regroup: Fresno State 24, UCLA 13.

Things are bleak, and there are frustrated, if isolated, rumblings that maybe Rick Neuheisel and his so-called all-star staff aren't up to snuff.

But the Bruins manage to win two of their next three, sandwiching victories over Washington State and Stanford around a competitive loss at Oregon.

Quarterback Ben Olson, cleared to play after his preseason foot injury, takes over in the third quarter against California when Kevin Craft throws his third interception. Olson nearly leads the Bruins to a comeback, but Cal survives, 24-20.

Olson is sharp the following week against Oregon State, throwing two first-half touchdown passes, but he re-injures his foot in the third quarter and the Bruins lose, falling to 2-7.

The visit to Washington is a tough one for Neuheisel. His team is languishing, while the Huskies appear to be righting themselves for the first time since the program unceremoniously fired him.

Nothing goes right for the Bruins in a 33-10 defeat. Huskies fans spend much of the game taunting Neuheisel with a variety of chants.

Lackluster losses to Arizona State and rival USC follow. The season, as bad as any for the program since World War II, mercifully ends.

The Trojans then beat Georgia for the national title and sign the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. Neuheisel's class ranks 32nd.

Norm Chow is lured away by an SEC team, which gives him a three-year, $6 million contract.

DeWayne Walker is hired as the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator.

Ranking the Pac-10 punters

July, 21, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

Punters are perennially underrated.

Coaches will go on and on about field position and how it's often the critical element in close games. Well, a good punter -- much like a turnover, only without possession -- can in one play change the field position battle.

Seven Pac-10 teams welcome back experienced punters, and a couple of others appear to have talented youngsters with big legs ready to step in.

Oregon State and, perhaps USC, could be the only two teams fretting the position.

On the top end, Arizona (P Keenyn Crier and K Jason Bondzio), UCLA (P Aaron Perez and K Kai Forbath, Oregon (P Josh Syria and K Matt Evensen) and Washington (P Jared Ballman and K Ryan Perkins) likely feel pretty darn secure with their returning specialists.

  1. Keenyn Crier, So, Arizona: Named first-team All-Pac-10 as a freshman after averaging 43.7 yards per boot.
  2. Aaron Perez, Sr., UCLA: 35 punts downed inside 20-yard line makes him an NFL prospect.
  3. Josh Syria, Sr., Oregon: Solid last season but looked even better during the spring.
  4. Jared Ballman, Sr., Washington: He's got a big leg and figures to be more consistent after averaging 40.9 yards per punt in 2007.
  5. Reid Forrest, So., Washington State: Some ugly punting moments for Cougars last year, but Forrest ended up with a respectable 40-yard average.
  6. Thomas Weber, So., Arizona State: Weber likes punting, but his coaches would prefer if someone else would beat out the nation's best kicker.
  7. Greg Woidneck, Sr., USC: He's ranked at the bottom of the Pac-10 two consecutive seasons.
  8. Bryan Anger, RFr., California: He showcased a huge, if inconsistent, foot during spring practices.
  9. David Green, RFr., Stanford: Green, a touted prep All-American recruit in 2006, is a better punter than kicker but he could end up doing both this fall.
  10. Kyle Harper, RFr., Oregon State: Get the feeling things are pretty unsettled here for the Beavers.