Post-Practice Update

* Junior OL Jeff Baca was carted off the field after suffering a left ankle injury during practice, and his status is unknown. Connor Bradford and Stan Hasiak saw the action as Baca’s backups at left tackle.

* QB Watch: Richard Brehaut had a really good practice but bore the brunt of several dropped passes. Brehaut delivered a few crisp deep balls, but he hit the check-downs better today, and seemed to feel the pocket pretty well. Brett Hundley was good but not great, though he did have one absolutely sensational deep throw that was …. dropped.

* The guy I hyped up all year last year, Jordon James, opened some eyes today. He has great burst and hits the hole at the right time, showing little hesitation. If you come out to practice, watch out for No. 6 in white.

* Seemed like everyone had the drops today, though there also seems to be some progress in the catch-and-run department. Josh Smith had a great catch, Taylor Embree caught a nice ball in traffic and Cory Harkey had a good grab. Also, John Young, the tight end out of Loyola who missed all of last season after shoulder surgery, had three catches and looked like a real focal point. I had a good interview with him after practice that I’ll post tomorrow.

* Stan McKay got plenty of reps with the first-team defense alongside Tony Dye, and Rick Neuheisel said after practice that the safety position is very fluid and there will be plenty of mixing and matching.

* Interviews in the next few days with Young, Anthony Barr and Rahim Moore from Pro Day, as well as Neuheisel’s post-practice comments. I’ll be out of town for a few days, and we’ll have Gerry Gittelson out at practice on Saturday and Monday. I’ll be back Tuesday.

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UCLA instituting changes to The Den after major survey

From UCLA: This email was sent to members of The Den, UCLA’s student athletic support group, to announce decisions made after a survey of The Den members and several months of working with various campus student and non-student groups. The changes are designed to enhance the student experience at UCLA athletic events.

Dear Members of The Den:

This past December, the UCLA Athletic Department asked you to participate in a survey regarding the student experience at our athletic events. The results were very informative and we want to thank all of you who participated. Over the past few months, we have been working with numerous campus student and non-student groups to implement many of the survey’s findings.

Today’s email is to report to you the results of the past few months. The new programs are all designed to create the greatest athletic student environment in all of collegiate athletics.

To fully examine the survey findings and the resulting decisions, the Athletic Department worked in cooperation with the Undergraduate Students Association Council (USAC), specifically Undergraduate Student Association President Jasmine Hill. She, along with fellow council members helped to identify and establish student focus groups that enabled us to vet ideas and concepts. We also discussed potential changes with The Den student leadership, Wooden Center Board of Governors, ASUCLA staff leadership, cheer and band leadership, and the Rally Committee.

Beginning in the 2011-12 season, UCLA Athletics will implement several new programs listed below, all with the goal of enhancing the student experience.

When new Pauley opens, there will be a specified student entrance for members of The Den at new Pauley enhanced with special graphics;

Creation of a Student Event Enhancement Committee, consisting of members of various constituent groups that will consult with the Athletic Department on ways of creating and maintaining a student environment second-to-none on a regular basis;

The return of a single-game student ticket price. Over the past few years, student seats were sold only on a season basis and if students wanted to attend a game without a season pass, they had to pay the regular fan price. This past season, UCLA instituted a price of just $99 for The Den season pass, which provided students the opportunity to attend all home football and basketball games. As a result of the survey, UCLA reinstituted a single-game student ticket priced at $12 during this past Pac-10 basketball season and will continue this going forward. Home football games will also have single game student pricing. The Den season pass for football and basketball will also remain as the best value option.

Continue reading

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Ayers and Moore prove something at Pro Day

The chips on the shoulders of Rahim Moore and Akeem Ayers have grown and grown and grown, and they looked like they were about to burst out on Tuesday afternoon.

Both had one last major showcase for NFL scouts at Spaulding Field for UCLA’s Pro Day, and both felt like they addressed some of the concerns that have been labeled on them.

Ayers had to deal with worries caused by a poor performance at the NFL Combine, a showing that raised some concern about his speed. After running both of his 40-yard-dashes at the combine in the 4.8s, Ayers was clocked at anywhere from 4.69 to the mid 4.7s on Monday and improved in his bench press and vertical jump, which measured at 34 1/2 inches.

“For a football player, you look at the film, you can see what I can do,” the former UCLA all-conference linebacker said. “Obviously I’m not on the field running a 4.8. If you look at the film, you just see what type of football player I am and gauge from there. At the end of the day, turn on the film, watch me play, see what I can do as a football player, which is what I’m going to be doing on Sundays with whichever team drafts me.”

To his credit, Ayers did not dodge questions about his combine performance and accepted the criticisms on his game. But he also spent nearly a month trying to address those critiques, and he drew rave reviews from scouts during his individual workouts.

“It was just something I should have prepared myself better for,” Ayers said about the combine. “It wasn’t that I didn’t work hard. I did everything I could. It’s more that I needed to prepare myself better mentally and physically, as far as recovering. … I think I did well (today). I improved all my numbers. Hopefully the scouts out here see how hard I worked and how much I want to compete to get better.”

Moore, meanwhile, showed up at Pro Day weighing 207 pounds, up five from the NFL Combine in late-February, and improved his bench press from 11 reps at 225 pounds to 16. After running unofficial 40-yard-dash times of 4.53 and 4.62 at the combine, Moore chose to focus on his strength and agility training, deciding not to run the 40.

“Sometimes I feel like people underestimate me,” said Moore, a two-time All-American at safety for the Bruins, though pro scouts have inquired about his ability to play cornerback.
“Some people think I’m weak, which is fine with me because it makes me work harder. I want to be the underdog, I want to be underrated. I want to be underestimated. It brings the best out of me. I’m fine where I am.”

Moore is currently slated in the mid-second round in most mock drafts, but an NFL scout from a team drafting in the late first round showed intense interest in Moore after he completed his drills at Pro Day.

“I wanted to show them I could move and that I am what I am, I’m a safety-slash-corner,” Moore said. “I did my best at the combine and did my best here.”

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Post-Practice Update

* Just a head’s up before we start. You guys are going to have to bear with me on the post-practice reports, as there’s no wireless internet at Spaulding Field anymore, and I’m going to have to improvise. I’ll try to get them as quick as possible, but at this point, I don’t know how fast that is.

* Overall there seemed to be good enthusiasm and energy for much of the day, but it got tailed off at the end, and some coaches started getting a bit chippy.

* New OC Mike Johnson: “On both sides of the ball, we’re trying to execute, trying to push the tempo, trying to get the guys to play with a different mindset. Today was a different first day. I think it was a shock to the system with the tempo. It was OK for first three quarters of practice, but then they got fatigued and they dropped off. But that’s to be expected – until they learn to play this way consistently, that’s what’s going to happen.”

* Richard Brehaut and Brett Hundley both looked decent in UCLA’s first spring practice, but neither wowed. Brehaut overthrew some passes, Hundley underthrew some, and they pretty much performed as you’d expect for their particular situations – Brehaut the maligned junior, Hundley the much-hyped freshman. Both had a number of really nice throws, and I have little doubt that this will be a back-and-forth battle throughout the spring.

* Hundley: “We have a new offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, brought new coaches in, and the whole mentality is to get UCLA to where it needs to be. I mean, 7-6, we’re not looking for that type of season. We’re looking to be the first Pac-12 champions. Today started everything changing. We’re putting UCLA back to where it needs to be.”

* Still too many drops among the wide receivers, but a couple look noticeably different – Morrell Presley is getting bigger and bigger and Josh Smith looked really fast out there, and not at all hampered as he was constantly last season.

* Saw a few really good breaks on the ball by Aaron Hester, and Tony Dye looks like he’s going to be a really good player next year. His body is filling out where it needs to be, and he’s taking more of a vocal role. He’s a big key to the season, as he needs to not only become an all-conference player, but also replace Rahim Moore’s vocal prowess.

* Check throughout tomorrow for videos, including Richard Brehaut, Rick Neuheisel and Tony Dye.

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Lee declares for NBA Draft

UCLA junior guard Malcolm Lee said he was declaring for the NBA Draft during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, but added that he was not going to hire an agent.

Lee, who is coming off left knee surgery, said he will take until the May 8 deadline to pull out of the draft before making his decision. He is in the process of rehabilitating his knee – which required surgery to fix a small cartilage tear and small miniscus cartilage tear, suffered in the team’s regular-season ending win over Washington State – and hopes to be ready for individual workouts that start on April 28.

“I consulted with my family and mentors like that, but the deciding factor was saying I’m a junior and I felt I made a lot of improvement from last year,” Lee said. “I felt like it was just right.”

Lee said his AAU coach was in the process of interviewing potential agents, but he said he wasn’t going to hire one in the interim. Sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt declared for the draft on Monday but will hire an agent, ending his college eligibility.

UCLA head coach Ben Howland said he thought it was Lee made the right decision based on the fact that he has the option to return his senior year, when the Bruins are projected to be among the top teams in the country.

Lee submitted a questionnaire to NBA executives yesterday that will give him feedback on his current draft prospects, Howland said, and he should have the results in 7-10 days.

“I don’t think it hurts Malcolm at all,” said Howland, who also added that he expects sophomore forward Reeves Nelson to return after their discussion. “He’s leaving open the option to come back to school if he doesn’t get the feedback he wants to hear. His classes are Tuesday and Thursday, and he should be good to go in terms of being back to full strength by the time they are starting to work guys out, which at the earliest is April 28th.”

Most mock drafts have Lee anywhere from the early second round to undrafted, but Lee’s sensational defense could find him a first-round suitor. Lee averaged 13.1 points on 43.7 percent shooting and added 3.1 rebounds as an All-Pac-10 first-team selection for the Bruins, who advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

But it was Lee’s defense that drew rave reviews, as the all-defensive team pick was called the “best perimeter defender in the country” by Howland on several occasions.

“I feel like I’m a first-round draft pick, but my opinion doesn’t mean anything,” Lee said. “If I’m not a first-round draft pick, as of right now, I feel like I can improve my stock in the workouts.”

Lee said he is unconcerned about a potential NBA lockout, and that it will not affect his decision. However, he did say that the team’s potential for next season – even with Honeycutt off to the draft, most Pac-10 observers believe UCLA should be at the top of the conference next year – could be a factor in his return.

“That’s definitely on my mind,” Lee said. “Just knowing what our team could be with me.
The potential this team has could be could be a deciding factor. But if I were not to come back it could be a top team still because we do still have talent.”

Howland added some more talent on Monday, only it will be delayed a year.

Former Taft High and North Carolina point guard Larry Drew II enrolled at UCLA on Monday and will redshirt next season before becoming eligible as a senior in 2012-13.

Drew abruptly left North Carolina in early February after his playing time diminished and he lost the starting role to freshman Kendall Marshall.

Drew averaged 4.4 points and 3.9 assists in 22.8 minutes per game as a junior, down from 8.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 28.8 minutes per game in 2009-10.

“We’re excited to have Larry Drew in the program,” Howland said. “I think he’ll be a good addition. Gives us a point guard in a class we need it as we move past next year. I’m excited about our team next year. We won’t know Malcolm’s decision until sometime around May 8. Then I’ll have a better feel.”

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