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UCLA FOOTBALL

Bruins kick off spring practice

The team starts training with familiar and fresh faces, including a new defensive coordinator. But it will also have to figure out its quarterback situation, among other things.

April 02, 2009

UCLA opens spring football practice today, the first of 15 workouts that will conclude with the annual spring game April 25 at the Rose Bowl. Coming off a 4-8 season, there are several issues to resolve and questions to answer. Staff writer Chris Foster looks at five of them:

Line items

Sure, the Bruins need to sort out their quarterback situation. But any improvement there will be for naught if the chosen one continues to have meet-and-greets with every opposing defensive player.

A year ago, the Bruins gave up 35 sacks, ranking them 110th out of 119 Division I teams. And the team's 2.6 yards-per-carry average was third-worst nationally.

And now?

Center Kai Maiava, a transfer from Colorado, is eligible after being a redshirt last season. Ryan Taylor has arrived from Tyler (Texas) Community College and will compete at guard and center. Stanley Hasiak and Xavier Su'a-Filo, upper-crust freshmen, will get a shot during fall camp.

"We got a couple guys who will probably be added to the mix when we get back to two-a-days in fall," Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "The puzzle won't be solved [in spring], but we will come out of spring with seven or eight guys."

Expected to be part of that group are tackle Nate Chandler, a converted tight end who has grown from 260 to 290 pounds, and Jeff Baca, who got some experience as a freshman and tops the depth chart at left guard. Tackle Sean Sheller returns after sitting out last year following a knee surgery.

"A year ago, we were just trying to find bodies. Now we actually get to watch guys compete for jobs," Neuheisel said.

Thrown open

Quarterback Kevin Craft returns for his senior year after starting every game as a junior. He deserved a purple heart last season, engineering two late scoring drives behind makeshift lines that provided half the Bruins' victory total. But he also had a school-record 20 passes intercepted and did not throw a touchdown pass in the last five games.

Neuheisel has promised to give Kevin Prince, a redshirt last season, and Richard Brehaut, an incoming freshman who enrolled early, most of the work the first "three to five days." He also promised that Craft would get "a lot of meaningful snaps."

Neuheisel also said, "I'm on the record as saying we have to play better at this position."

Defense minister

Chuck Bullough takes over as defensive coordinator in place of DeWayne Walker, now head coach at New Mexico State.

Under Walker, the Bruins' defense did its job, with only Arizona holding USC to fewer points the last three seasons.

So how will it work under Bullough? About the same.

Bullough was Walker's linebacker coach the last three seasons. "Anybody watching will say they are very similar, with some subtle changes," Neuheisel said. "But anyone who has keys to the car for the first time wants to do some things differently."

Backs for the future

Aside from senior cornerback Alterraun Verner, the Bruins are young in the secondary, with three potential starters able to reference the 1980s only through history books.

Safeties Rahim Moore and Tony Dye and cornerback Aaron Hester -- all born in 1990 -- have high ceilings on their ability. Moore started all 12 games last season, and Dye had considerable playing time as a nickel back. Hester was a redshirt.

Courtney Viney and Andrew Abbott are in the picture at cornerback. Glenn Love and Aaron Ware will compete at the safety positions.

In the running

The Bruins do not lack for bodies in the backfield. Sophomores Derrick Coleman, Aundre Dean, Johnathan Franklin and Milton Knox were part of a quality recruiting class a year ago. Raymond Carter looks to regain the speed and cutting ability he had before a knee injury in 2007.

Christian Ramirez returns from academic purgatory and starts out atop the depth chart.

Spring practice schedule

All workouts are open to the public and, except for the final scrimmage, will be held on campus at Spaulding Field.

Today, 4 p.m.; Friday, 4 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.; Monday, 4 p.m.; Tuesday, 4 p.m.; April 9, 4 p.m.; April 11, 12:30 p.m.; April 13, 4 p.m.; April 14, 4 p.m.; April 16, 4 p.m.; April 17, 4 p.m.; April 20, 4 p.m.; April 21, 4 p.m.; April 23, 4 p.m.; April 25, at Rose Bowl, 7 p.m.

--

chris.foster@latimes.com

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