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Toledo Given Paus

College football: Going into spring drills, UCLA coach says quarterback spot is up for grabs.

April 02, 2002|ROB FERNAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UCLA opens spring football practice today with depth at every position except the one where the Bruins seemingly could use some options: quarterback.

Cory Paus returns for his senior season as UCLA's only experienced quarterback, which isn't causing any parades through Westwood.

In fact, Coach Bob Toledo says he won't name a starter until the week before the Sept. 7 opener against Colorado State, thus giving him time to assess the untested abilities of freshmen Matt Moore and Drew Olson, who will join the team in the fall.

The embattled Paus must play his way out of the doghouse, where he landed with a thud last season after coaches learned he had failed to inform them about two alcohol-related driving convictions. Toledo, after allowing Paus to start in UCLA's 27-0 loss to USC, demoted him to third string for the season finale against Arizona State.

Though he is hopeful Paus has put his personal problems behind him, Toledo says he wants to send a message by opening up competition for a starting job that would normally be signed, sealed and delivered to Paus. Redshirt freshman John Sciarra is the Bruins' only other scholarship quarterback in spring practice. Senior Ryan McCann left UCLA without an experienced backup by transferring to Division I-AA Tennessee Chattanooga.

"I want Cory to understand that he needs to do things right and not get into any trouble," Toledo said.

Paus served a four-day jail sentence in January for his second alcohol-related driving conviction in two years. He was also required to pay a $1,300 fine, enroll in an 18-month alcohol-diversion program and serve five years' probation.

"He wants to move on with his life," Toledo said. "He knows there is a lot of pressure on him. But he feels like he's in good shape right now. He has a good outlook. We had a lot of good talks in the off-season.

"He hasn't been as consistent as we would have liked, but I think his attitude right now is as good as it's ever been. Hopefully he will have a good spring."

Paus performed well in spring practice last year but a summer injury to his right thumb hampered his passing during the season and contributed to a miserable four-game stretch in which he threw for no touchdowns and eight interceptions in losses to Stanford, Washington State, Oregon and USC. The Bruins finished 7-4 and out of the bowl picture after starting 6-0 with a No. 4 ranking.

"I think the injury had a big effect on him physically, and I think hiding the DUI had an effect on him mentally," Toledo said. "That's all behind him now. He wants to prove that he's the quarterback that we all thought he would be."

Moore, from Newhall Hart High, and Olson, from Piedmont High in Northern California, are expected to observe spring drills as they begin learning the Bruin offense with the knowledge that if anything happens to Paus, one of them probably would become the starter.

"I want them coming in not thinking they're going to redshirt," Toledo said.

UCLA, which has 11 returning starters, must replace several key players, among them tailback DeShaun Foster, center Troy Danoff and linebackers Robert Thomas and Ryan Nece. Foster, expected to be taken in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, was ineligible for the last three games last season because he drove a 2002 Ford Explorer that was lent to him.

The off-the-field distractions caused by Foster and Paus prompted Toledo to take steps to more closely monitor his players' actions.

"The big thing we're trying to do is follow up more on what [players are] driving, what they're doing and where they're going," Toledo said. "I won't be a detective by any means, but I want coaches keeping a closer look."

Junior Akil Harris and sophomore Manuel White, who split tailback duties in Foster's absence, are the top candidates to fill the starting spot. The 6-foot-3, 241-pound White will also get a look at fullback, where the Bruins are inexperienced.

Toledo said the Bruins must devise ways to get the ball in the open field to running back Tyler Ebell, a redshirt freshman from Ventura who ranks among the team's best breakaway threats.

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