UCLA's Football Overhaul : Offensive Coordinator Axman and Quarterback Aikman Give Bruins' Offense New Names, Familiar Look

Times Staff Writer

What's new with the UCLA football team?

For starters, there's a new offensive coordinator, Steve Axman. He is replacing Homer Smith, who has gone on to the pros. Axman was the quarterback coach and offensive coordinator at Arizona for five years and also coached the offensive line at Stanford.

Here, he will tutor the quarterbacks, call the plays and have a lot of input into the design of the offense.

Coach Terry Donahue promises, though, that the Bruin offense will undergo few major changes. Some new looks. Some new pass routes. Still mostly I formation with some use of split backs.

What else is new?

The quarterback, of course. If it's time for spring practice, it's time for the annual quarterback derby.

Troy Aikman, the big blond kid who transferred from Oklahoma a year ago, has served his redshirt season on the Bruin practice field, working with former Bruin quarterback Rick Neuheisel, now a volunteer assistant coach.

Aikman, who is 6-3 and 217 pounds, went to the University of Oklahoma from Henryetta, Okla., in 1984. As a sophomore he started the first four games and led the Sooners to a 3-0 record before breaking his left leg in the fourth game, against Miami. In those first three games, Aikman completed 27 of 47 passes (.574) for 442 yards.

By the time he came back, though, little Jamelle Holieway from L.A. Banning High had taken a firm hold on the quarterback spot, Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer had decided to go back to his old favorite, the wishbone, and there was just no place for a big, strong drop-back quarterback. It made sense for Aikman to transfer and Switzer called Donahue. . . .

Aikman went into spring practice last week listed No. 2 behind Brendan McCracken. They're now splitting time at No. 1, and Donahue said that he hopes to come out of the spring with a solid No. 1.

McCracken and Aikman both have two years of eligibility remaining. McCracken, 6-0 and 203, from La Canada, redshirted as a freshman in '84, played sparingly in '85, then played an important role last season, coming in to run the Bruins' change-up offense, the wishbone, in short-yardage situations. He, too, can pass, and he also is quick enough to run--and likes to. He picked up some key first downs in the USC game last season.

"I would like to come out of spring with our quarterback set," Donahue said. "I think it's important. But no matter which one is playing, we're going to count on some help from the other one.

"Each one can highlight a certain aspect. I like to have enough inventory on the shelf to know that we can make the changes we want to make. We may very well have one guy named the starting quarterback but still play two quarterbacks."

So what else is new?

The two players, who transferred from Southern Methodist when the NCAA shut that program down, enrolled in classes at the start of the quarter and are now on the field, ready to go.

David Richards really is 6-5, 305. He was recruited by UCLA when he was in high school in Highland Park, Tex. Since then he has twice been named to the All-Southwest Conference second team. He is expected to help in the offensive line right away.

Ben Hummel, who also was recruited by UCLA before he signed with SMU, is moving up steadily among the outside linebackers.

That's about all that's new.

Tailback Gaston Green is back for his senior season, hoping to keep up the pace he set in the last seven games last year, when he averaged 164.4 yards a game. He set a school record with 1,405 yards last season. So the public relations campaign is on to "Bring the Heisman back to Westwood."

The Heisman hasn't been to Westwood since Gary Beban won it in 1967.

Speaking of inventory on the shelf, tailback Eric Ball also is back. After his super Rose Bowl game of Jan. 1, 1986, when he was player of the game after rushing for 227 yards and four touchdowns, his '86 season went down the drain with knee and hamstring problems. He says he feels great now.

Also in the tailback inventory are Danny Thompson, moving from fullback, and redshirt freshman Brian Brown, who, like Green, played at Gardena High School.

Senior James Primus, who has started at both tailback and fullback, is establishing himself as the No. 1 fullback this spring while Mel Farr, a two-year starter, is being held out of contact work because of a back injury suffered late last season.

Donahue is concerned about depth at fullback, although there will be some freshmen coming in this fall who may be able to help there.

Although, technically, just four starters are back for the Bruins on offense, there are lots of talented players, many with experience, to choose from. The offensive line, for example, has just one player, John Kidder, back at his appointed starting spot. But there are several players who have started games and several ready to start. It's just a question of finding who goes where.

"We've only had five practices this spring," Donahue said. "We still have some time to sort it out. We lost four starters on our offensive line, but we have some good players."

Defensively, seven starters return. The linebacking corps appears to be the strength of the defense. There is some question about depth in the secondary because of injuries.

Bruin Notes UCLA is coming off an 8-3-1 season that the Bruins wrapped up by winning the Freedom Bowl. They have wrapped up their last five seasons by winning bowl games. . . . They finished last season ranked No. 14 nationally and have finished in the top 20 the last five years. . . . The nonconference schedule next fall includes San Diego State and Fresno State at the Rose Bowl, and Nebraska in Lincoln. . . . Having decided not to go to the Atlanta Falcons a few months ago, Terry Donahue will be starting his 12th season as UCLA's head coach. . . . There had been plans to move Carnell Lake, a 12-game starter at outside linebacker, to fullback. That's where he had wanted to be when he came in as a freshman. But Lake asked to stay on defense, and Donahue agreed. . . . Split end Flipper Anderson and flanker Paco Craig are the starters, but Michael Farr, Reggie Moore and David Keating will figure in this season. . . . Free safety James Washington, a three-year starter, is out with a twisted knee. . . . Mark McGill, a backup free safety, broke his foot playing basketball. . . . Anthony Burnett, a backup cornerback, broke his leg in a car accident. . . . Alfredo Velasco and Wes Denton are competing to replace kicker David Franey.

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