Post-Practice Update

* Sorry for the delay, had a bunch of stuff to take care of after Hurricane Irene stranded me in New Jersey – which is like being stranded in New Jersey, as you can imagine – but there wasn’t much to discuss anyway.

* Players were in shorts and shells and it was more of a mental practice than a physical one, and they’ll similarly go light tomorrow in preparation for Houston.

* Spoke to both Dalton Hilliard and Dietrich Riley about the starting safety flip-flop, and they both responded about how you would expect. Both have been told they’ll play a similar amount of reps, and with the pass-happy Cougars, I wouldn’t be shocked to see both on the field at the same time in some lineups.

* Most interesting news was probably the revelation that Neuheisel would make the kicker position a game-time decision. Kip Smith was looked sharper in sharper in recent days, Neuheisel said, but he’s still undecided. A reporter asked if the question marks at the spot would cause hesitation on Neuheisel’s part in the red zone, but he deflected the answer, saying it was more a “gut-feeling” deal. We’ll see about that. Maybe this will make Neuheisel take a few more chances on offense.

* During a recent sit-down interview – season preview comes out tomorrow, by the way – Neuheisel mentioned how far the receiving corps has come since his first fall camp by pointing out that two then-freshmen, Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree, made important plays in his first game against Tennessee. With both still around and the competition pushing them harder than in the past, Embree is fired up for Saturday.
“The level of competition that we’ve had at this camp is unbelievable,” Embree said. “All over the board. We’ve always had the talent, we’ve seen flashes of it throughout my career, but it’s never been consistent. In practice, even when we have a bad practice, we see a lot of good things. Usually in the past, we have a bad practice on offense, we’re not even getting the ball off the ground. Balls fumbled, drops. But now, the foundation we’ve formed this camp is nothing we’ve seen before.”

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UCLA to go with two-quarterback system in Week 1

UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel had a conference call set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday night to announce his starting quarterback. He took to the phone at 6:09.
After waiting until four days before the Bruins open their season on Saturday afternoon at Houston, what’s another nine minutes?

Now, it turns out, what’s another week or so?

Neuheisel said that while junior Kevin Prince will start against the Cougars on Saturday, fellow junior Richard Brehaut would also see extensive action, and added that the competition continues as neither quarterback has separated himself.

“This is not so everybody feels good,” Neuheisel said. “It’s so that the competition continues. We’re going to play this position well. We’re going to play it consistently. Both kids are capable of doing that and I’m going to expect it from them. I’m excited to watch them both play.”

Neither quarterback was consistent last year, and rarely was their cause for much excitement, as UCLA’s passing game fell to historic lows. Behind Prince for five games – after being sidelined for much of fall camp by a back injury, he was lost midway through the year after knee surgery – and Brehaut for seven, the Bruins ranked 116th out of 120 FBS teams in passing offense at just 141.08 yards per game.

With Prince still recovering during spring practice and Brehaut switching between UCLA baseball and football, Neuheisel declared the competition open heading into fall camp.

Prince saw most of the first-team reps throughout camp, but Brehaut came on strong with his passing skills eclipsing Prince’s while he worked back into form. In recent practices, Prince has been much-improved in the throwing game and that, combined with his talents in the run department, will give him the first shot against Houston.

“I think that coach Neuheisel just saw that Richard is very capable and we both bring unique things to the table in terms of our ability and things that we’re able to do when we’re in the game,” Prince said. “So I don’t know if Richard won or I lost or however you want to label it. We’re both capable of playing the position well and that’s what we’re going to do on Saturday.”

Neuheisel said score and time would not dictate usage, and that he hoped to maintain a rhythm if the offensive was moving. He also added later that freshman Brett Hundley could see some action in a “small package.”

“I just believe both deserve to play, so both are going to play this weekend,” Neuheisel said. “We’ll start Kevin, and Richard will come off the bench and play. I’ve told both of them that I don’t know exactly when or how or why, because when you make promises of that sort, you end up setting yourself up for disappointment because you can never predict the ebb and flow of a game.”

Neuheisel made a similar commitment to Brehaut last season, but Brehaut did not see any action until Week 2 in a 35-0 loss to Stanford, when he completed 5-of-9 passes for 42 yards and an interception. He didn’t play again until starting for Prince in a 42-28 win over Washington State in Week 5 as Prince nursed the knee injury, which eventually cost him the season after a one-game return in a 35-7 loss to Cal.

“I think things are a little bit different this year,” Brehaut said, when asked why he had faith that he’d play on Saturday. “I think I’ve proven myself a little bit more this year that I am capable. I think there might not have been that sure faith in me last year and maybe that was the reason why I didn’t go in there.”

Neuheisel opened the conference call referencing the belief that he’d made his decision long ago and was just playing coy with the media.
Instead, he said, he accomplished his goal.

“I didn’t reach this conclusion months ago and then decide today just to keep you all in the dark,” Neuheisel said. “I wanted to create competition. We did that. We created an atmosphere where both kids were going to be given ample opportunities and we wanted to create an environment where the best would be the guy.”

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Depth chart released

UCLA released a “tentative” depth chart today. Here’s an update on some of the interesting position battles.

*The strong guard spot lists Chris Ward or Albert Cid.

*Cory Harkey remains ahead of Joseph Fauria at tight end.

*The wide receiver position opposite Rosario lists Shaq Evans or Randall Carroll.

*Cassisus Marsh is ahead of Nate Chandler at right defensive tackle.

*Glenn Love beat out Jordan Zumwalt at sam linebacker.

*Dalton Hilliard beat out Dietrich Riley at strong safety.

“He was just really consistent,” Neuheisel said of Hilliard. “I think coach Tresey has shared with all of those kids that they’re all going to play. This competition doesn’t need to stop just because we’re going to play a game.”

*Jeff Locke is listed to kickoff, punt and hold with the place kicking spot listing all three candidates.

*Josh Smith is your kickoff return man while Taylor Embree is slotted to handle punt returns.

I asked special teams coach Angus McClure if Embree is the “safe” choice for returning punts.

“A lot of people are running what you call a shield punt in college football,” McClure said. “A shield punt is spreading everybody out and they don’t block. They release the guys downfield. You need a guy that’s sure handed because the coverage team is there much quicker than the traditional punt. You need a guy that has sure hands that can catch the ball in traffic. You don’t have more time to gather yourself anymore, the shield punt has changed a lot.”

Asked if Jordan James or Shaq Evans have sure enough hands, McClure said he expects two out of those three (James, Evans, Embree) to see action returning punts.

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