Less than two weeks before UCLA's season opener against Tennessee, Coach Rick Neuheisel ended the Bruins' quarterback battle when he named junior Kevin Craft as the team's starter before the afternoon practice Monday.
Craft, who completed eight of 18 passes for 93 yards with three interceptions in UCLA's scrimmage Saturday, has been working exclusively with the Bruins' No. 1 unit, and Neuheisel said Craft has a better understanding of the offense than redshirt freshman Chris Forcier.
"Kevin has earned it with consistent play," said Neuheisel about Craft, a junior college transfer getting his opportunity after senior Ben Olson suffered a foot injury at the start of training camp. "He has the best mastery of the offense at this point. The kids took it well, and they are all in his corner pushing for him."
Craft, who began his college career at San Diego State and then played at Mt. San Antonio College before transferring to UCLA in the spring, did not seem surprised with the news.
"Obviously, I'm real excited, but I understand that we still have to work hard," said Craft, who passed for 4,231 yards and 44 touchdowns last season playing for his father, Tom, at Mt. SAC.
Forcier, who spent last season working with the scout team offense, also took Neuheisel's decision in stride.
"Kevin is doing a good job out there," Forcier said. "We're battling. Just because he was named the starter, does not mean that the job is closed. Competition is a good thing.
"We know that anything can happen. We've seen that already with Pat [Cowan] and Ben."
For offensive coordinator Norm Chow, the goal is to now get Craft ready to lead UCLA's young offense against the Volunteers on Sept. 1.
"I think that [Craft] has known since Ben went down, that the job would be his if he performed as he should," Chow said. "Hopefully, he'll step up and do what he has to do."
And where does Craft need the most improvement?
"Making quick decisions," Chow said. "He has to get the ball out to help the offensive line a little bit. . . . You don't have to throw a touchdown pass on every down. He's improving in that area."
Fifth-year senior cornerback Michael Norris, on UCLA's defense this year compared to previous seasons: "What I've noticed this year more so than any other year is that we have a lot of unity. There's no egos and everybody is trying to work together so we can grow as a group. . . . It's really working out well so far."
Norris added: "We're more athletic as a defense. In years past, we may have had more experience than we do now, but we'll get to that point."
Running back Kahlil Bell did not practice Monday morning to rest a hip injury but returned for the afternoon workout. Defensive end Korey Bosworth, who suffered an ankle injury in Saturday's scrimmage, practiced Monday. UCLA has several players recovering from concussions, including linebacker Reggie Carter and tight end Logan Paulsen, and Neuheisel said he expects most of them to return to practice this week. . . . Wide receiver Gavin Ketchum has mononucleosis and will miss the season opener.
The highlight of the morning practice came from freshman safety Rahim Moore, who delivered a major hit on wide receiver Terrence Austin during a red zone team drill. . . . Freshman wideout Nelson Rosario made the play of the afternoon practice with a touchdown catch in traffic.