UCLA Believes 'Pistol' Will Spark Offense
WESTWOOD, Calif. --There's a vibe connected with UCLA's football program that has people thinking around southern California that the Bruins' time may be here sooner than later.
Boosted by offensive coordinator Norm Chow's decision to stay on board -- and turn down any deal to work on new USC Coach Lane Kiffin's staff -- UCLA began spring practice with plenty of momentum and confidence Thursday at Spaulding Field.
"Our legacy starts now with this team," said UCLA junior safety Rahim Moore, who led the nation with 10 interceptions last season. "We know that a lot could be going on for us in the future. But everything starts now."
It would be an understatement to say that UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel suffered a few blows over his first two seasons.
But after finishing 4-8 in 2008 and 7-6 last season, the Bruins are stacked with talent on both sides of the ball and feature an offense that returns two quality quarterbacks in sophomores Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut.
"The talent level is the best that I've ever seen at UCLA and with the recruiting class we have coming in, the level is going to go even higher," Moore said about the Bruins, who have won the Rose Bowl since the 1985 season. "I'm looking forward to each practice and this season."
If UCLA's opening spring practice of 2010 is any indication, the Bruins should at least be more interesting to watch in the fall.
Let's start on offense, which has been inconsistent since Neuheisel took over the program.
In a move aimed to take advantage of the mobility of both quarterbacks, UCLA unveiled a single-back, no-huddle offense that was utilized exclusively throughout practice.
Although the Bruins had a few problems with shotgun snaps and handoffs, Neuheisel's version of the "pistol" seemed like a good fit.
"We don't know [if the pistol] will [be UCLA's main offensive scheme], but you can't wait around to try things out in 15 practices," Neuheisel said.
"We know how to run the offense that we've run over the last two years, but we are looking for ways to increase productivity. How much of a percentage will we run [the pistol] in the fall? I don't know. We have to find out."
Both Prince, who started 11 games in 2009, and Brehaut, who played in six games as a true freshman, looked comfortable and that's because Neuheisel did not change much of the overall attack.
"We didn't revamp anything," said Prince, who passed for 2,080 yards and completed 56.2 percent of his attempts last season. "It's not like learning a totally new offense. We are running basically the same stuff, except we're doing it out of shotgun."
Quarterback play has always been the X -factor throughout the history of the Bruins' program.
When UCLA has had standouts like Gary Beban (the school's only Heisman Trophy winner), Troy Aikman, Cade McNown and even Drew Olson, success on the field usually followed.
Prince showed signs of being that next great quarterback for the Bruins. It's a role that he hopes to grow in 2010 with the help of UCLA's "pistol."
"I did what I could to get ready," said Prince, who redshirted in 2008. "... In the offseason, when I was working out with our receivers, I made sure that I did my footwork out of the shotgun so that I could get the timing right."
At 6-feet-2, 230 pounds, Prince has the size to deal with the extra physical demand that comes from UCLA's "pistol" and the Bruins hope that he excels with the extra space to look over opposing defenses.
"It's obviously easier to see pre-snap because you are four yards back behind center," said Prince, who threw eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions. "But you still have to make the right reads."
If Prince is able to hold off Brehaut and redshirt sophomore Nick Crissman and emerges as a top dual-threat quarterback, UCLA supporters believe that the Bruins will be primed to make a run for a BCS bowl and a top 10 finish next season.
Moore said the Bruins are tired of being regarded as a second-tier type of program.
"See that wall over there?," Moore said as he pointed to a distant blue practice wall that featured UCLA's Pac-10 championship teams and the 1954 Bruins, who won the school's lone national championship.
"We only have one national championship. Just one. That's our goal. We want to win it all, starting with a Pac-10 title. We know that we have a lot of work to do, but that's our goal."
In 2009, UCLA's season included several high points. The Bruins pulled out regular-season victories over Tennessee, Kansas State, Washington and Arizona State, and in the EagleBank Bowl, they gained a win over Temple.
UCLA's overall play was shaky and that could be attributed to a couple of things, starting with the high number of underclassmen forced to play.
For Chow, who rejected a lucrative offer from USC during the offseason, that's UCLA's biggest (and probably last) obstacle to hurdle.
"When you look at our units, we have two seniors on offense and none on defense," Chow said. "We have to continue to recruit and get better because freshmen should not have to play at a program like this unless the player is extremely way above everybody else."
In 2010, Neuheisel signed one of the best overall recruiting classes in the country. Major talent that normally found its way to national recruiting powerhouses like Florida, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and USC, joined the Bruins' movement.
And the main source of the talent is led by southern California, highly coveted recruits in Josh Shirley (linebacker), Deitrich Riley (safety) and Anthony Jefferson (defensive back) along with Anthony Barr and Marshall Jones (running backs).
It's the type of class UCLA fans have been waiting for because of the hype but according to Chow, it's the type of class UCLA needs to help close gaps within the program.
"Even when you watch college basketball, there are some teams with freshmen playing key roles but for most of the winning teams in the tournament, there's usually a strong core of senior leadership," Chow said.
"That's where we have to get to the point where freshmen do not have to play for us."
As an example, Chow pointed to Xavier Su' a-Filo. In 2009, Su' a-Filo started at left tackle and was regarded as one of the nation's top freshmen offensive linemen.
As good as Su' a-Filo played, Chow said the Bruins' program should have been strong and deep enough to keep him from being forced into action in his first year.
"He started for us from day one last year," Chow said about Su' a-Filo, who is serving a two-year LCS Mormon mission in Tallahassee, Fla.
"He's going to be a great, great football player but he should not have been forced to play as a freshman. We now live in a world where people are not patient. That makes things tough.
"But we're getting there."
On Thursday, the Bruins competed against each other at a level they rarely reached in recent year workouts. Despite being dressed in helmets and shorts without pads, players banged against each other with intensity not only near the line of scrimmage but also in the secondary.
And what made UCLA's opening spring workout standout is that it did not have any major fights, a problem that has plagued workouts in previous years.
"A lot of guys had some animosity toward each other yet, our discipline was still good," Moore said. "Last year, we were a little off and we had a lot of fights out there on the field. Today, we went after each other and played with hunger. ... It was a good first day."
Now, it's up to the Bruins to keep it up.