UCLA Kicks Off Season Full of Potential

Aug. 6, 2007

By Sam Allen
Daily Bruin

August 6, 2007

Los Angeles, CA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- It all starts today for the UCLA football team.

The Bruins will begin preseason practices Monday, four weeks before they travel to Stanford to start the 2007 season on Sept. 1.

Karl Dorrell's team will practice daily leading up to its Aug. 18 scrimmage at Drake Stadium. Aug. 10 will be the first day of full-pads. The practices are all open to the public until the August 18 scrimmage.

It's the beginning of a road that the Bruins hope will end in championship glory.

'Our team has worked very, very hard and our coaches have worked very, very hard to get us in position to be a strong factor in the Conference race,' Dorrell said.

With a total of 25 seniors, the expectations are high for the Bruin team, which will be the most experienced in the Pac-10. UCLA enters the season ranked No. 17 in the preseason USA Today coaches poll, and picked to finish third in the Pac-10 by members of the media at the Conference's media day.

The Bruins will use the preseason camp to focus on improving an offense that struggled last season and maintaining their stellar 2006 defense. New offensive coordinator Jay Norvell must revamp a passing game that averaged a paltry 200 yards last season, the worst mark in Dorrell's four-year tenure.

Dorrell is excited about handing the offense over to Norvell, who served as the offensive coordinator at Nebraska last season.

'Jay Norvell comes from a system that I am very familiar with,' Dorrell said. 'He and I speak the same language.'

Dorrell chose redshirt junior Ben Olson as his starting quarterback over redshirt junior Pat Cowan last spring. Dorrell is confident that the 24-year-old Olson can handle the complicated offensive scheme.

'We're going to emphasize that our quarterback handles a lot of information,' Dorrell said.

Dorrell can only hope that the transition to Norvell is as seamless for the UCLA offense as it was for the Bruins' defense last year when DeWayne Walker took over as coordinator.

The improvement under Walker was astounding. The Bruins allowed an average of 19.9 points per game, 15 points fewer than in 2005, and just 91 yards rushing, 142 yards fewer than in 2005. And, of course, it was the UCLA defense that shined in the 13-9 win over rival USC, holding the Trojans to their lowest point total in five years.

With 10 starters back, the Bruins expect to field another dominant defense in 2007.

'We had a year to play in (Walker's) system and understand it, and now we're totally comfortable,' standout defensive end Bruce Davis said. 'We're a more mature football team.'

It's that type of savvy that has this veteran Bruin squad so confident entering camp.

'We have 25 seniors; some of us have been here for five years,' Davis said. 'There's nothing in college football we haven't seen.'

There is one sour note for the Bruins as they enter preseason practice, though. Wide receivers coach Eric Scott is still on paid administrative leave after he was charged with burglary on July 25. The lack of resolution means that, for now, Dorrell is both head coach and wide receivers coach.

'The players and the coaches are accountable at UCLA,' Dorrell said. 'When something like this happens there has to be a judicial process.

'What I'm prepared to do is to be acting as the receivers coach. It's something I've done before.'

It's not an area where the Bruins can afford a setback. Last year it was running back Chris Markey who led the team in receptions with 35 while the receiving corps struggled. As a team, UCLA had just 16 passing touchdowns.

Still, Dorrell is patient.

'We're going to let the process take its course,' Dorrell said.

Another area UCLA may have to worry about is special teams. The Bruins lost All-American kicker Justin Medlock, who was the first kicker drafted in the April NFL Draft. Stepping into Medlock's role is Kai Forbath, a redshirt freshman who was ranked as the No. 1 kicker in the nation as a high school senior.

Forbath is just one of the younger players who the Bruins will try to integrate during the preseason camp. Top recruits defensive lineman Brian Price and running back Raymond Carter will get their first chance to play with the team. Both could contribute in their first season.

It all adds up to a solid sum for Dorrell. He beat rival USC for the first time last season, and this year his Bruins will try to snap the Trojans' streak of Pac-10 championships.

But that's all a long way away for UCLA. As for now, the Bruins are focused on their opening game at Stanford, not the lofty expectations surrounding the veteran team.

It's a long road, and the Bruins vow that they won't overlook any opponent.

'We know that it's not just what's on paper that wins football games,' Dorrell said.

(C) 2007 Daily Bruin via CSTV U-WIRE

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