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Easy Isn't Going to Do It for This Bruin Defense

August 17, 2000|T.J. SIMERS

There was no guard at the wide open gate.

You could go deep across the field to the far wall unchecked, in fact go wherever you pleased at the Bruin football practice--one photographer weaving his way in and out of the drills without interference.

UCLA, of course, stops no one.

I know, I know, this year's going to be different because the Bruins have the same defensive coordinator for the first time in four years, the guy who took the 99th-ranked defense in the nation two years ago and turned it into the 107th-ranked defense in the nation, never mind that there are only 114 teams in this nation that play Division I-A football.

I know, I know, this year's going to be different because five freshmen who started on the Rose Bowl team two years ago are ready to go, fully recovered apparently from nearly being trampled to death by Wisconsin's Ron Dayne.

I know, UCLA's going to be a lot better this season because the guys have learned where to park.


THAT'S WHAT EVERYONE at UCLA is saying, and maybe there's some real hope there, but then the Bruins donned the pads for the first time Wednesday morning. The very first time quarterback Cory Paus handed the ball to running back DeShaun Foster, Foster went untouched into the end zone.

The Bruin defenders, of course, are instructed not to tackle the ballcarrier in practice, and maybe that's been the problem the past two years--no one telling these student-athletes it's OK to bring down a runner when the games begin.

But the idea in these running drills is to smack Foster, or bump him, at the very least pat him on the pads as he runs by. Now Foster's very good, a Heisman Trophy candidate down the road and a cinch to win it if he could only play against his own defense, but this is a running drill where everyone knows that Foster is going to run the ball, and no one on the Bruin defense could touch him.

This prompted the players dressed in white, obviously the really good guys on scholarship because they play on offense, to hoot and holler, and they kept right on doing that throughout the entire drill.

The defense, meanwhile, stood with all the emotion one might expect from tackling dummies.

"This is the first practice we have been like that," linebacker Ryan Nece said. "I know it's rather disappointing--we've been more enthusiastic than that in every other practice--a lot like the offense. Maybe it was because it was our first day in pads."

On the second play, the defense jumped offside.

So what do you want me to write--it was just one bad practice? You don't give the benefit of doubt to a defense that has finished 99th and 107th in the nation just because it needs time to warm to the task of hitting someone.

But who knows? Maybe Alabama or Michigan will be more sympathetic.


STANDING HERE ON the UCLA campus, I'm reminded that it has been several months since Steve Lavin's name has appeared in The Times. Hasn't he done something wrong in all that time?


IF IT'S SUPPOSED to be a mystery who is going to start at quarterback, someone hasn't been watching practice. And remember, the gates are wide open.

Paus directed the Bruins' offense Wednesday with confidence and a sense of command. Ryan McCann throws a nice pass, but the really good guys dressed in white were responding with an extra zip in their step when Paus was barking out signals, and he will undoubtedly benefit from Foster's skills as well as a deep receiving corps led by wide receiver Brian Poli-Dixon.

"As the quarterback goes, so will the Bruins," Coach Bob Toledo said. "But people who say I just like to throw the ball are forgetting that last year was the first time in my career I didn't have a 1,000-yard rusher."

Had the Bruins hogged the ball and run it a little more against Miami two years ago--and I'm not suggesting that Terry Donahue would have thought of that--and kept it away from Edgerrin James who ran for 299 yards . . . well, never mind. There will be other national championships to win--won't there?


SPEAKING OF USC, I mention the Trojans in the same sentence as the "national championship," just to see if the Bruin faithful has a sense of humor. We know the Trojan alumni don't, because they sent a number of e-mails to the office angry at the suggestion that a 3.8 grade average at USC is probably worth only a 3.4 at Notre Dame.

I apologize. I wanted to correct all their spelling errors and return the e-mail but did not have time.


THESE THINGS HAPPEN in practice--to a point. Freshman offensive lineman Eyoseph Efseaff and defensive lineman Ken Kocher met head-to-head in a blocking drill, which deteriorated into a fight. Kocher, a junior who should know better, not only lost his helmet but tried to punch Efseaff in the face, although the freshman was wearing a helmet with facemask attached. Can you say, "Ouch?"

A few plays later, Efseaff and defensive tackle Steve Morgan started rolling on the ground, and Kocher came running, jumped on Efseaff's back and was driving punch after punch into Efseaff's kidneys until pulled off by one of the team's assistant coaches. On the street, he'd have been arrested, but on the bright side, it's a good thing they were teammates, or he might have really hurt him.

Toledo ordered Kocher off the practice field and told everyone else, in language that couldn't be misunderstood that he did not approve of the brawling.

But can you imagine any player at USC acting like that?

Just another humor check for the Bruin faithful.


TODAY'S LAST WORD comes in a long list of e-mails from Mike, Xman, Teddy, Sylvia M., Bobby and Jackson. Paraphrasing all the above:

"How come you didn't mention your pal, F.P. Santangelo hitting a home run the other night?"



T.J. Simers can be reached at his e-mail address:

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