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Expectations get bit of a rest this season

July 25, 2008|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

The barometer readings were preferable to all involved with the UCLA football program. The storm warnings were absent.

First-year Coach Rick Neuheisel was glib and upbeat at the Pacific 10 Conference media day, with his Bruins picked to finish a modest fifth in the conference this season.

"Needless to say, I'm elated to be here," Neuheisel said. "I'm looking forward to rekindling the rich, rich football tradition at UCLA and getting us back to a place where we play for the big prizes."

That sound bite requires only deferred payments, as opposed to the IOU that came due a year ago.

Last year, during the conference's media day, questions about assistant coach Eric Scott's arrest (he was later cleared) and high expectations for a season (which didn't materialize) became an albatross that dragged down coach Karl Dorrell.

The scene has changed dramatically. A repeat of last season's 6-7 record and a Las Vegas Bowl appearance would probably be cause for a parade.

"Last year there were a lot of expectations, we had a lot of seniors coming back, then the injuries started," said senior defensive tackle Brigham Harwell, who sat out all but two games because of a knee injury. "Now, no one expects anything from us. . . . Now we have something to prove."

Coach is optimistic

"I'm not going to tell players we're going out and having an 11-win season, then go in the back room and hope we win six," Neuheisel said.

"I know there is a willingness to be patient with a new coach. But it's all about creating an environment that will flourish eventually. Hopefully, it will happen sooner rather than later."

As for his own expectations, Neuheisel said, "I don't want to send the message that it is OK not to be good. Nor do I want to put a number on what it is for us to call it a successful season. I want to make sure that we get better so that I feel momentum when we go into homes [recruiting] in December."

Hold that line

The linchpin to the season remains the offensive line. Darius Savage, a converted defensive tackle, tops the depth chart at one guard and Scott Glicksberg, a converted tight end, is at the other.

Neuheisel said that Savage has "an NFL body" and Glicksberg has added 30 pounds since spring, according to the UCLA media guide. But "we don't have a great deal of depth," Neuheisel said.

That is most evident at right tackle. Injuries forced Aleksey Lanis to end his football career and Sean Sheller was lost for the season when he injured his knee and ankle in an ATV accident.

That leaves Mike Harris No. 1 on the depth chart, though Donovan Edwards, a transfer from Diablo Valley College, could step in at that spot. Edwards needed to attend summer school to become eligible and Neuheisel said he was still awaiting transcripts.

Nate Chandler, who has been moved from tight end, may also figure into that spot.

"Nate would look in the mirror and wanted to say he was a tight end, but his body kept saying he was an offensive lineman," Neuheisel said. "A year from now, we're talking about a future NFL player. How fast he gets there remains to be seen."

Quick kicks

The Bruins open training camp Aug. 5. . . . Wide receiver Jamil Turner, a junior, has left the team but will remain on scholarship. . . . Senior offensive lineman Aaron Meyer has transferred to Nicholls State. . . . Tight end Ryan Moya suffered a hamstring injury, but Neuheisel said it shouldn't prevent him from participating in training camp.


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