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UCLA's Latest Loss: Short-Term Memory

Dorrell and Bruins insist they've forgotten all about last season, which ended with five straight defeats.

September 03, 2004|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

There's a bad case of selective amnesia going around Westwood, and you can thank UCLA football Coach Karl Dorrell for it.

Everything is about the present. Last season's 6-7 finish, which included five consecutive losses, could have happened decades ago, as far as Dorrell is concerned. And guess what: The Bruins are all suffering from the forgetfulness bug.

"We're not thinking about last year," said senior Craig Bragg, who needs 23 receptions and 659 yards to become the school's top receiver. "We're just concerned about winning now and bringing the Victory Bell back home. No one on the team has beat [USC] or played in the Rose Bowl. This is going to be the year that we plan to accomplish all of those things."

With what Dorrell says are improved team chemistry and a more confident coaching staff, which features three new assistants, the Bruins are hoping to turn around a program that has finished above .500 only twice since 1998.

A schedule that isn't extremely challenging adds to UCLA's confidence heading into Saturday's season opener against Oklahoma State at the Rose Bowl. After playing the Cowboys, who are coming off a Cotton Bowl appearance and a 9-4 season, UCLA plays four consecutive opponents that did not have winning records last season, including Illinois, the Bruins' lone road game east of the Rockies.

A position-by-position look at the Bruins:


If junior Drew Olson can play up to his potential, UCLA could have a dangerous offense. Olson, at 6 feet 3 and 217 pounds, has a strong arm. He took a beating last season playing in a West Coast offense that never found its rhythm.

Olson has responded well to the coaching of new offensive coordinator and line coach Tom Cable and quarterback coach Jim Svoboda.

David Koral, a junior college transfer, is No. 2 and helped himself with a strong effort in the Bruins' main scrimmage of training camp. Koral has the best mobility among the quarterbacks. Walk-on Brian Callahan, son of Nebraska Coach Bill Callahan, is No. 3.

Running Back

Late last season, Maurice Drew emerged as UCLA's top rusher and his role in the offense has grown. The Bruins want to keep Drew fresh and like to get him the ball in the open field. Senior Manuel White is also sound and gives UCLA versatility as a tailback and fullback while also being a threat as a single back. Redshirt freshman Michael Pitre has also worked his way into the offense. His ability to block, catch and run with the ball has made him the likely choice over senior Pat Norton at fullback. Norton may be a better blocker, but Pitre's power makes running back coach Eric Bieniemy smile.

Tight End

Marcedes Lewis has the ability to dominate opposing secondaries. He's big, mobile and motivated to have a huge season. The players behind Lewis are not bad but they have not been able to avoid injury. J.J. Hair, Keith Carter and Matt Raney each can block and catch the ball in traffic but they've been on the injured list more than they've been on the field in camp.

Wide Receiver

With the pending return of senior Tab Perry, who was academically ineligible last season, the Bruins have the most experienced pair of wide receivers in the conference.

Perry has NFL skills and is a strong complement to Craig Bragg, who is coming off consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Junior Junior Taylor will start at split end but his playing time figures to decrease once Perry is woven into the offense. Players to watch are freshmen Brandon Breazell and Marcus Everett.

Offensive Line

Seniors Paul Mociler and Steven Vieira have emerged as Cable's most dependable blockers. They hold down the strong side of the line and will be counted on to open holes for Drew & Co.

Center Mike McCloskey, who missed spring practice because of a lung ailment, has been steady. When he's on top of his game, the Bruins' offense is usually clicking.

Ed Blanton is the starting weakside tackle and the Bruins are waiting for him to take over as the team's dominant lineman. UCLA's depth came into play early in camp when weakside guard Eyoseph Efseaff was sidelined because of a groin injury. Sophomores Robert Cleary and Robert Chai filled the void and their versatility has given Cable options.

Defensive Line

If tackle C.J. Niusulu has to miss a lot of time because of injury, the Bruins' defensive front will feel the loss. Niusulu is the most experienced player among a young group of linemen. Kevin Brown has the talent to be a force at the other tackle but he's young.

End Justin Hickman, a junior college transfer, has been a nice surprise for the Bruins with his steadiness. Bruce Davis starts at the other end and is more a pass-rushing specialist because of his speed.

The Bruins hope to have Kyle Morgan and Brigham Harwell in the rotation as soon as they fully recover from the arthroscopic knee surgeries they had early in camp. Noah Sutherland, Kenneth Lombard, Robert Garcia and William Snead are backups expected to get playing time.


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