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Smith Gets Off to Strong Start

August 15, 2003|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

A second-day snapshot of all that is new with UCLA football ...

Tyler Ebell drops a pass early in practice Thursday. Running back coach Eric Bienemy matter-of-factly says, "Drop and give me 10."

There is no complaint from the star tailback, who gained 994 yards last season. He does the pushups then sprints to his position for the next play.

Hustle is constant. Accountability is immediate. The full effect won't be known until games begin, but so far, so good.

"This coaching staff is awesome," senior receiver Ryan Smith said. "I like the mesh of personalities. They push us and that's just what we need."

Smith is one of the initial beneficiaries. Hobbled by ankle and foot injuries the last year and a half, he had surgery for a second time and bought into the intense summer conditioning regimen and is free of pain.

Because returning starter Tab Perry is academically ineligible, Smith has an opportunity to log significant playing time. He has responded well.

"One receiver who has stood out is Ryan Smith," Coach Karl Dorrell said.

Craig Bragg and Junior Taylor are listed as the starting receivers, and Smith is the only other player with extensive experience at the position. Taylor missed practice Thursday because of a strained hamstring, giving Smith even more repetitions.

"It feels so good not to hurt with every step," Smith said. "It's nice not to have to fight that mentality."


Senior defensive tackle Rodney Leisle practiced for the first time, returning from Bakersfield after attending his grandmother's funeral.

Leisle suffered a thigh bruise Thursday but said he is fine otherwise. Last season he was on Nagurski, Outland and Lombardi award watch lists but was hobbled by a foot injury that grew progressively worse. He had surgery Oct. 8 and missed four games.

Defensive coordinator Larry Kerr said Leisle will line up outside the offensive guard, making it difficult for offenses to double-team him. Leisle, who seriously considered jumping to the NFL after last season, wants to improve his pass rush.

"This position creates opportunities for me to get some sacks," he said. "I'll have more space to move in, to put on a rush and to get upfield."

An injury-free Leisle is especially important because senior tackle Ryan Boschetti is making a slow recovery from off-season groin surgery. C.J. Niusulu is the only other experienced tackle, although Dorrell said end Asi Faoa could play the position.

Leisle said he believes his grandmother, who died of cancer Sunday, will be watching him.

"She was a great woman," he said. "Caring, loving, sharing. She was great."

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