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Craft has tough practice

UCLA FYI

August 23, 2008|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft and the Bruins' offense labored Friday, flailing away during a no-pads practice. The low point was three consecutive passes that Craft had intercepted.

"It was sloppy," Craft said. "On a day like this, when we come out without shoulder pads, it's hard to keep mental focus. It wasn't a total loss, but it wasn't what we wanted out of it, and it wasn't what I wanted out of it."

The performance on offense didn't have Coach Rick Neuheisel pressing the panic button, but his assessment of Craft was that "this was the first day in a while that I thought he took a step backwards."

Craft has had more than a handful of interceptions in training camp, including three in the spring game. Some can be attributed to the defense being familiar with the offense, but Craft was also wild during seven-on-seven drills Friday.

"This was not a good day for Kevin," Neuheisel said. "I don't know what it was, whether something confused him today. We're going to need him to be more consistent than he was today."

Yet, Neuheisel was not overly concerned.

"It's like a starting pitcher with a clunker," he said. "I hope that it is just an aberration."

The solution now is to move on, offensive coordinator Norm Chow said.

"He started out rough," Chow said. "The key we've been preaching all the time is go on to the next play. I think it was a nice lesson to learn because he let it bother him today."

Defense stays strong

While the offense struggled, the defense continued to hone its game and develop depth. Datone Jones, an incoming freshman, has played himself into a position to get playing time.

"I love his tenaciousness," defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. "God gave him a lot of talent. He's still a little green, a little raw, but he has a real feel for the game."

Last season, the Bruins hit the jackpot with freshman defensive tackle Brian Price, who started five games. Jones will have a chance to ease into things.

"It's every player's dream to be in the mix the first year," Jones said. "There are not a lot of freshmen who are in my shoes. I got to grow up faster to be able to contribute to this team."

Whose line is it?

This much is known about UCLA's offensive line.

"Micah Reed will start at center," Neuheisel said. "He'll be out there, knock wood. And Nick Ekbatani will start somewhere."

The situation, though, seemed clearer in practice. Darius Savage and Scott Glicks- berg were the first-team guards in the non-contact drills Friday. Ekbatani was at one tackle and Micah Kia at the other, though he was limited because of a broken left hand.

The concerns are Glicks- berg, who is nursing a sore shoulder, and Kia, whom Neuheisel expects to be ready. Kia will be reexamined next week.

"It's all going to be a pain tolerance thing, and he's a tough guy," Neuheisel said.

Still, the line's depth chart would "never be totally set," offensive line coach Bob Palcic said. "If those guys play well and we feel good about the progress, we'll keep them in there the next week. If someone falters or someone behind them plays a little better or practices harder, that guy will deserve an opportunity."

Savage has come full circle in that area. Penciled in as a starter in the spring, he lost ground, then lost weight and moved back into the forefront.

"Darius lost 30 pounds, which he needed to do," Palcic said. "He was too heavy and lost some of his mobility."

--

chris.foster@latimes.com

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