Quarterbacking on Neuheisel’s mind at QB club

When Rick Neuheisel brought up UCLA having to face a pair of future NFL first-round draft choices in consecutive weeks in Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Houston’s Case Keenum — a game-time decision according to the Houston Chronicle after suffering a mild concussion against UTEP — it allowed the former Bruins quarterback to wax nostalgic about one of his first NFL quarterbacking experiences while speaking Friday at the Pasadena Quarterbacks Club luncheon at Brookside Country Club in Pasadena.

After graduating from UCLA, Neuheisel played for San Antonio Gunslingers in the old USFL, when he received a phone call from the Green Bay Packers offering him a tryout.

Neuheisel, born in Madison, Wisconsin, and a lifelong Packers fan, arrived the morning of the tryout and threw one slant pass that resulted in an unnamed free-agent receiver suffering a broken finger.

“It was a perfect pass,” Neuheisel said.

The tryout was cut short until later in the afternoon, with Neuheisel touring the Packers Hall of Fame museum in the interim. When he returned to the indoor facility for the second workout, a Packers assistant had told him “they’d seen enough” and that he “wasn’t exactky what they were looking for.”

The 6-foot-1 Neuheisel, in disbelief after throwing just one pass, was told by the Packers that they expected him to be a “taller 6-1.”

Instead of staying the rest of the day at the Green Bay Packers Ramada Inn, Neuheisel had lunch courtesy of the franchise before leaving on a flight out of Wisconsin later that night. Although he never had future contact with the Packers, he did split the 1987 season with the San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It was that learning experience that allowed Neuheisel to be patient with St. Francis coach and former Hart quarterback Jim Bonds — also a speaker Friday at the Quarterbacks Club luncheon — when Neuheisel was his quarterbacks coach at UCLA in 1988 and ’89, and has allowed him to be patient with Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut the past two seasons.

“We’re going to get there,” Neuheisel said. “I just hope I’m around to see it when it happens.”

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Neuheisel has seen this all before

During his speech Friday at the Pasadena Quarterbacks Club at Brookside Country Club in Pasadena, Rick Neuheisel encouraged the Bruins fans in attendance to remain optimistic, despite the 0-2 start.

After all, this isn’t the first time Neuheisel has endured an 0-2 start to the season.

During his first season at Washington (1999-2000), Neuheisel lost to BYU and Air Force, before the Huskies rebounded to win seven of their final 10 games, including a 6-2 record for a second-place finish in the Pacific-10 Conference and an appearance in the Holiday Bowl, where Washington lost to Kansas State 24-20.

“I told my coaching staff, ‘We can’t win the Mountain West, but we can still win the Pac-10, so let’s find a way to do so,’” Neuheisel said. “And we came within a whisker of doing so, even beating conference champion Stanford (35-30).”

In Neuheisel’s second year at Washington, the Huskies went 11-1 — including a victory over then No. 1 Miami (Fla.) — and defeated a Drew Brees-led Purdue team in the Rose Bowl 34-24 to finish ranked third in the country. That victory helped Neuheisel become the only Rose Bowl MVP to also coach a team to victory in the annual New Year’s Day game.

“When I walked in here (to Brookside Country Club), I saw a lot of people feeling sorry for me, but that shouldn’t be the case,” Neuheisel told the audience. “Sure I’m disappointed in the way we’ve been playing, but you’ve got to continue to believe it can happen and find a way to get over the hump.

“There’s plenty of good seats available on the bandwagon now right up near in the front because a lot of people have jumped off,” Neuheisel continued. “If you have gotten off, that’s fine, but there’s still time to get back on because I wouldn’t want you to miss being part of an unbelievable ride.”

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Neuheisel talks job security at QB club

Rick Neuheisel made his annual appearance Friday at the Pasadena Quarterbacks Club at Brookside Country Club in Pasadena, joining another former UCLA quarterback Jim Bonds — now the head coach at St. Francis — as the guest speakers.

Minutes before Neuheisel was introduced, former Dodger Al Ferrara (1963, 65-68) informed those in attendance of the news that Don Mattingly would be managing the Dodgers the remainder of the regular season, instead of a retired Joe Torre.

As he was preparing to walk up to the podium, Neuheisel looked at his cell phone, apparently reading or responding to a text message.

When he greeted the crowd, Neuheisel commented, “Many of you saw me checking my phone. I was just making sure that Joe Torre wasn’t hired to coach UCLA football.”

Neuheisel later referenced UCLA’s 1983-84 season, when he was selected MVP of the Rose Bowl after leading the Bruins to a 45-9 victory over Illinois after falling ill the night before and being uncertain whether he would even play.

UCLA started 0-3-1 that year, with Terry Donahue benching Neuheisel — a former walk-on from Arizona who began his career holding kicks for John Lee — in favor of Steve Bono following a 42-10 loss at No. 1 Nebraska.

“Terry Donahue said ‘In situations like this, either the coach gets fired or the quarterback gets fired and I’m not fired yet,” Neuheisel said.

Bono was then injured during an October game against Stanford and Neuheisel came back to finish the season, leading the Bruins to a a victory over USC, a Pacific-10 Conference championship, the Rose Bowl win over No. 4 Illinois and a 7-4-1 final record.

The third-year coach, 11-16 at UCLA following Saturday’s 35-0 loss to Stanford, only hopes this season’s Bruins rebound in similar fashion.

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Sunday practice wrap-up

Some final thoughts on UCLA’s workout Sunday. The Bruins are scheduled to practice twice Monday, the first workout from 9 to 11 a.m. at Spaulding Field:

Offensive play of the day: Although redshirt freshman tailback Johnathan Franklin had the longest gain in any live drill with his 40-yard run, it was freshman receiver Ricky Marvray that came through with several impressive catches, the most signifcant a diving reception in the end zone in between two converging defenders on an underthrown 20-yard pass by Kevin Prince during 7-on-7 red zone drills. Marvray also added a leaping 25-yard reception over the middle and in coverage on a pass by Richard Brehaut and hauled in a 15-yard pass by Kevin Craft along the sideline.

Defensive play of the day: Reggie Carter and Akeem Ayers aren’t just limited to stopping the run, as both linebackers are showing they can cover UCLA receivers with consistency as well. Although Ayers came away with interceptions on consecutive passes by Kevin Craft during 7-on-7 drills, Carter’s deflection of Prince’s attempt during red zone drills that prevented Gavin Ketchum from catching a touchdown pass was another example as to why the fifth-year senior should be considered an All-America candidate.

Special teams play of the day: Most of the focus Sunday was on punt coverage, with few live situations as a result. But after a rare drop Saturday that cost him 50 pushups, senior Terrence Austin demonstrated why he was UCLA’s leader in all-purpose yards last year, catching every kick that came his direction, including weaving his way through potential tacklers for a gain of 20 yards on his first return.

Unsung hero of the day: Not many throws are coming in the direction of redshirt freshman defensive back Aaron Hester, but when they do, the Dominguez of Compton graduate is either knocking the ball away or quickly wrapping up the receiver. Hester is quietly establishing himself as a force in the secondary with senior Alterraun Verner, sophomores Tony Dye and Rahim Moore, and freshman Stan McKay.

Quote of the day: “When you have Terrence Austin and Randall Carroll, the California state champion (at 100 and 200 meters), how could you not want to throw the ball deep?” freshman receiver Ricky Marvray, who is also establishing himself as a deep threat in UCLA’s offense, which is looking to stretch the field more this season.

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Finally, room to run

Johnathan Franklin took the handoff from Kevin Prince, cut to the left and bounced outside.

And seemingly in unison, coach Rick Neuheisel, offensive coordinator Norm Chow and offensive line coach Bob Palcic let out an enthusiastic scream.

For one of the few times since UCLA donned full pads and participated in contact drills, a running back got the ball and saw daylight in front of him.

Franklin ran for nearly 40 yards before being pushed out of bounds, the longest gain in any 11-on-11 drill during the day.

Otherwise, all of the Bruins’ biggest offensive gains in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 competition came through the air, as Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut overcame some early erratic play to connect with freshman Ricky Marvray for three passes of 15 yards or more — including a diving catch in between defenders in the end zone on a 20-yard pass by Prince — and screen passes to fullbacks Chane Moline and Jayson Allmond that resulted in gains of more than 20 yards.

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Quarterback rotation is now party of five

Got a look at freshman quarterback Ted Landers, a 6-foot-5, 186-pound walk-on from Serra of Gardena, for the first time during Sunday’s practice. His presence gives UCLA five quarterbacks in its practice rotation, along with starter Kevin Prince and reserves Richard Brehaut, Kevin Craft and Nick Crissman.

Landers, who hadn’t practiced in previous days in order for all of his paperwork to be certified with the NCAA Clearinghouse, took eight snaps during 11-on-11 competition.

Landers completed 3 of 4 passes during 11-on-11 competition, including a 15-yarder on his first attempt to freshman Ricky Marvray and a 20-yard connection with Antwon Moutra on his last throw.

Although Craft has the edge in experience, none of the quarterbacks have distinguished themselves in the quest to be Prince’s understudy. Although he was competing against the third-string defense, Landers threw the ball with confidence and hit his receivers in stride.

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Ready to turn the page on turnovers

In order for UCLA’s offense to turn the corner, it will require the Bruins to not turn the ball over 2.4 times per game like they did last season.

Although it was only a 7-on-7 drill Sunday, coach Rick Neuheisel wasn’t pleased with a three-play sequence that saw redshirt sophomore linebacker Akeem Ayers intercept consecutive passes by Kevin Craft and Alterraun Verner nearly pick off a Kevin Prince attempt that was intended for Taylor Embree.

Reggie Carter nearly intercepted another Prince pass intended for Gavin Ketchum at the goal line and a couple of mishandled snaps from under center resulted in fumbles.

“We’re still turning the ball over too much,” Neuheisel said. “We played that game last year and it was no fun. We just can’t afford to turn the ball over.”

UCLA threw 21 interceptions last season and lost eight fumbles, resulting in a minus-10 turnover margin. They had at least one turnover in 11 of 12 games, including four miscues on five occasions. The only time the Bruins didn’t commit a turnover was in a 28-3 victory over Washington State.

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Another lineman down

With Nick Ekbatani (left knee) and Jess Ward (right knee) already on the sidelines with MCL injuries, redshirt junior defensive end Reginald Stokes was carted off Spaulding Field on Sunday with a swollen right knee after sustaining contact during the first 11-on-11 drill of the day.

Stokes didn’t return to practice, creating even more depth issues along UCLA’s defensive line.

“(Trainers) said his knee swelled up pretty badly,” coach Rick Neuheisel said. “It’s too bad because he’s had a nice camp and he’s been a good player for us. But he’s a tough guy. He’s been knocked down and come back before.”

Also missing most of Sunday’s practice, although not for injury-related reasons, was redshirt freshman defensive tackle Justin Mann.

Early in practice, Mann had to be attended to by team trainers, then campus paramedics and eventually L.A. Fire Department paramedics, who treated him for heat exhaustion and a low blood sugar level.

Mann, who had his blood pressure taken and was administered oxygen on site before being taken off the field by paramedics for more extensive tests, returned near the conclusion of practice walking around on his own power wearing a T-shirt and shorts.

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Don’t make the boss mad

Nothing like a downfield block during a run-and-catch along the sideline to get the competitive juices of the defense flowing and Rick Neuheisel’s blood pressure boiling.

But that was the scenario during 11-on-11 competition Sunday, when Kevin Prince threw a short screen pass to senior fullback Chane Moline, who rumbled 21 yards along the right sideline. Just as senior defensive back Alterraun Verner was about to push Moline out of bounds, he was leveled by redshirt sophomore tight end Nate Chandler.

It was easily the hit of the day. But it caused some words to be exchanged between Chandler and other defensive players, who considered the contact to be perhaps a cheapshot and unnecessary given the context of the drill.

Senior linebacker Reggie Carter was prepared to deliver a jarring hit to any offensive player that got in his way, given the opportunity, on the next play, but cooler heads prevailed.

Verner popped up and jogged back to the huddle, but the same couldn’t be said for Chandler, who was quickly replaced on offense, with Neuheisel and several assistants yelling at him, “That’s our guy.”

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Making practice a little more official

With UCLA devoting some time to live, full-contact 11-on-11 drills Sunday, coach Rick Neuheisel brought an officiating crew in to call penalties with the team’s fall scrimmage less than a week away.

The opportunity to follow live competition was also beneficial for the officiating crew, all except for one sideline official, who was run over when Johnathan Franklin broke off a long run along the left sideline before being pushed out of bounds.

I guess no matter how many times an official sees a football player running straight at him, it still doesn’t make it any easier to get out of the way.

The majority of the penalties called against UCLA were for false starts and illegal shifts, with certain calls occasionally drawing the ire of offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who was in regular-season form when it came to sharing his disapproval with the officials.

After one big play was negated because of an illegal shift, Neuheisel said, “Linemen get set. This is the first time you’ve heard me say it, which means I’m mad.”

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