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UCLA FOOTBALL

UCLA's Kip Smith has edge in Bruins' kicking competition

The redshirt freshman made three of four field-goal attempts Saturday during the Bruins' first spring scrimmage and could be on track to replace Kai Forbath, who won the Lou Groza Trophy last season.

April 11, 2011|By Ben Bolch
  • ULCA kicker Jeff Locke gets away a punt against Arizona State.
ULCA kicker Jeff Locke gets away a punt against Arizona State. (Christian Petersen / Getty…)

Whether he has just made a 50-yard field goal or missed an extra-point try, Kip Smith said his confidence won't waver.

"Once I kick one, I don't get too excited about it," the UCLA kicker said Monday. "When I miss one, I don't get too down."

So the redshirt freshman was predictably ho-hum after making three of four field-goal attempts Saturday during the Bruins' first spring scrimmage, alleviating concerns about the departure of decorated kicker Kai Forbath.

"I wouldn't say I'd take it," Smith said after missing from 48 yards but connecting from 45, 42 and 28 yards, "but it's all right for now."

Angus McClure, UCLA's special teams coach, said Smith "has a leg up" on Jeff Locke, a junior who is sidelined by a hip injury, in the battle to replace Forbath, the Lou Groza Trophy winner last season as the nation's top kicker.

"Kip has an edge right now," McClure said. "But we're still looking for the best guy. The best guy is going to play."

Smith said he figured the kicking job was "my spot to lose" because Locke already has a heavy workload with punts and kickoffs, and not many teams want their kickers to handle all three duties.

If Smith wins the job, he'll have Forbath and Locke to thank. He said both teammates told him during a redshirt season filled with inconsistency that he needed to focus more on precision than distance.

"I had to work on more finesse, on more accuracy, than trying to nail 50-yarders all day," Smith said. "I mean, in high school you can do that, but in college, your money is inside of 40; there are not so many 50-yard kicks. It took me awhile to change my form.

"Kai and Jeff basically told me I needed to change or I probably wouldn't see the field. They told me what I needed to change and how to do it, and Jeff is making sure I'm doing it now that Kai is gone."

Going through motions

Coach Rick Neuheisel described the Bruins as "sluggish" two days after their first scrimmage, something that was not totally unexpected.

"But I just got done telling the team that if we all want to go where we all say we want to go, we've got to get through that," Neuheisel said. "We can't just be like every other team and say that, 'Well, we scrimmaged on Saturday, so we're not quite feeling like it.' "

How do the Bruins capture the necessary intensity?

"It's leadership," Neuheisel said. "It's guys on the team understanding that these days are precious and not to be survived but to be [thought of as], how do we go out and play a game every day even though we're not playing a game? … That's a quality that the great teams possess."

Remembering a legend

Neuheisel offered his condolences to the family of Homer Smith, the former UCLA offensive mastermind who died Sunday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., from cancer.

Smith served three stints with the Bruins, most recently from 1990-93 as offensive coordinator under Terry Donahue. Neuheisel was also a UCLA assistant at that time.

"Terry Donahue and Homer Smith are the reason I'm standing in front of this camera right now, and I just miss Homer already," Neuheisel said. "He was an unbelievable inspiration to me as a coach and as a guy who mentored me in the coaching profession, and I am forever indebted to him."

Etc.

Tight end John Young injured his left shoulder and walked off the practice field with his arm in a sling, though the extent of the injury was not immediately known. "Hopefully, it's nothing more than we just tape him down and he'll be back out here," Neuheisel said. … Safety Tony Dye sat out practice because of a left knee sprain but was expected back "shortly," according to Neuheisel.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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