* I know Datone Jones will be one of the best defensive ends in the country
Jones took his game to another level last night, and while I’m usually reserved in crowning guys based on performance against teammates, I saw enough to make me believe that he’ll become a national name this year. He is playing with such ferocity, maybe anger, and when an already technically sound and physically imposing player gets that litttttle extra “oomph,” big things happen. He has torn up training camp, but I was really convinced last night.
* I think the coaching staff is beginning to trust Richard Brehaut
Aside from getting more reps with the first-team offense in the scrimmage than at any point in fall camp, Brehaut also got good play-calling, which isn’t always the case. I’ve always felt that the coaching staff runs two different offenses with Brehaut and Prince in there. But during an eight-play scoring drive with the ones yesterday, Brehaut did what Prince became so effective at last year: Guided the offense on the ground. It might be funny to hear that a quarterback needs eight straight running plays, but in Brehaut’s case, they know he can throw. Throwing the ball has never and will never be Brehaut’s issue. Now, I’ve argued that the whole “he doesn’t know enough” thing has been overblown, because I don’t think its fair to compare someone who is about average in game management and understanding of defense to someone who I consider exceptional upstairs. But conducting the running game smoothly – including checks and audibles – is key, and the coaching staff still wants to see more of that out of Brehaut. Last night went a long way, as Brehaut’s first drive with the first-team offense was a symphony. Guys were in the right place, Derrick Coleman was churning – MORE ON HIM LATER – and they finally figured out what to do with Anthony Barr. For Brehaut, it was a very important drive.
* I think the passing game will be much improved, no matter the quarterback. It’s easy to reflect on last year’s passing game and think that the whole thing was just cursed, that every facet of every play was poor. The results were that bad. But if you actually break down every cause and effect, you wonder if ANY team could’ve weathered such quarterbacking dysfunction. First you have Norm Chow, who has long been known as a one-quarterback guy. Once he has “his” guy, he pours absolutely everything into him, 150 percent, 200 percent, and that’s why those guys are always so smart. But the problem with picking one guy was displayed last year, and I don’t mean when Prince tore his knee.
Last year’s fall camp was a lesson in how NOT to handle quarterbacks, as Brehaut never was able to build that confidence with Prince’s return looming. Now you’re looking at Brehaut play with confidence, and it’s night-and-day. It’s a real competition. So Prince returns with essentially zero practice time and falters against Kansas State – with no help from his receivers – in a game Brehaut should have started. And Brehaut knows that. Then Prince spends weeks of game preparation that essentially serves as his training camp, and all the little kinks have to be worked out while preparing for a different opponent, a different game plan, etc.
By the time Brehaut moved into the starting spot, his confidence was shot – and again, confidence is just the solidity of your place in the offense – and the receivers’ confidence was shot, and the whole thing was shot.
Now, with Rick Neuheisel picking the quarterback and the competition heating up, whoever gets the starting job will believe he earned it, which is critical. Plus, you know, better wideouts.
* I know Joe Tresey held back last night, but when he doesn’t…look out Forget the injury bug that’s bitten the UCLA defense throughout camp – various guys missing a day here, a day there, Tony Dye out pretty much all camp, Jamie Graham out for a month – the reason the Bruin offense got the upper hand yesterday was because of the vanilla defense. Now, the offense played well, but Tresey seemed to bring little of the heat that he has during drills and live situations throughout camp, and with good reason. He doesn’t want to show Kevin Sumlin and Case Keenum ANYTHING heading into Sept. 3. And even with relatively little pressure, Datone Jones still set up camp in the backfield.
* I think UCLA needs to designate a No. 1 receiver soon
I’m all for kumbaya and spreading the love and mixing the ball around, but I’m also a true believer in a No. 1 wideout, and it doesn’t really seem like the Bruins are developing that one guy into that role. If it’s Nelson Rosario, he has to play his part, and that means bringing a little more urgency and enthusiasm to the position. If it’s Shaq Evans, then they need to put him in position to catch the ball more. But either way, if there are two minutes left, and it’s no-huddle, and UCLA is driving, personnel packages go out the window, and its mano-a-mano. UCLA needs to have a No. 1 mano.
* I know that the UCLA running game will be top-3 in the conference
Johnathan Franklin returns as one of the top backs in the conference, and in an important scrimmage, UCLA doesn’t even give him one carry. And the Bruins STILL dominate the ground game. The depth in the running game is that good for UCLA right now, especially with the forgotten man, Derrick Coleman.
I’ve always thought Coleman got a raw deal from the fans, especially those who clamored for two true freshmen to overtake him last year. Coleman can run the ball. He can. It’s fact. He’s averaged 5.4, 4.5 and 5.9 yards per carry in his three years, and showed that when shouldering a load, he can deliver. He got 31 carries against Texas (16) and Washington State (15) last year and gained 279 yards. He didn’t get more than nine carries in any other game. THAT MAKES NO SENSE. Yeah, he doesn’t have top-level speed. Big deal. How often does a running back breakaway? Twice a game? Big deal.
Then with Malcolm Jones really stepping up his game and becoming a go-to second power back, and electrifying Jordon James in for a few fly sweeps, that’s one heck of a 1-through-4. While I don’t agree with the Anthony Barr experiment – I don’t care about Eric Dickerson and Brandon Jacobs, those are outliers – he could be an effective short-yardage back.
Really this year, it will be about how the players are used, and if their respective talents are maximized, not whether they have the talent.