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UCLA REPORT

They'll Put Up a Brave Front

August 13, 2004|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

With the UCLA Bruins settling into their first week of practice, this much seems clear: The young and inexperienced defensive line must learn in a hurry to play well as a unit if the Bruins are going to enjoy a respectable season.

"Our defensive front was very active today," Coach Karl Dorrell said after practice Thursday. "We have a lot of no-names but we'll be OK."

All four starters from last season must be replaced, along with two other seniors who played regular roles, so it will be up to a smallish group of relative novices to assert themselves.

"Everybody's doubting us a little bit, thinking we're so much different from last year's line," said C.J. Niusulu, a 6-foot-2, 285-pound junior who is the most experienced of the group. " ... a lot of us don't have experience in the field. But we've just got to prove that we can do it, that we can hang in there."

The Bruins have 27 more practices before their opener Sept. 4 against Oklahoma State, and defensive line coach Don Johnson promised improvement in that span.

"A lot of sources are saying that there's not a lot of talent," he said. "I disagree with that. They're on scholarship here because they have talent."

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Quarterback Drew Olson has bulked up considerably since last season and seems to have more zip on the ball. He also seems more comfortable with the West Coast offense and said knowing he's the starter gives him one less thing to worry about.

"It's nice to go out there and be able to just focus on my team and how to get my team better, rather than how to win a [quarterback] battle, or how to beat out another person," said Olson, who started nine of the 12 games in which he played in 2003, a season in which Matt Moore was the starter initially.

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David Koral and Brian Callahan are vying to be the backup quarterback. Koral seems to have a slight edge in the eyes of the coaches, but no decisions have been made and Callahan is having an easier time adjusting to the offense.

"David spent most of his high school career and JC career [at Santa Monica College] in the shotgun offense, so some of his mechanics still need improvement and his footwork is getting better," said Jim Svoboda, in his first year as quarterbacks coach. "Sometimes it's hard to break the patterns that a guy has been doing for a while, but he's doing that. He's willing."

Said Koral: "There's a lot more timing involved. You have to hit your fifth step [on the drop back] and fire. You can't wait and try to hit the open guy after the break -- you've got to throw the ball before he breaks. You throw late and you're throwing [an interception.]"

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Running back Maurice Drew suffered a slight groin strain while fielding punts at the beginning of practice. He was held out of rushing drills.... Dorrell said he was impressed with the way his no-name defense pressured the quarterbacks during drills, and also with outside linebacker Wesley Walker, cornerback Trey Brown and senior free safety Ben Emanuel.

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