OFF TO A NEW START : As Spring Practice Ends at UCLA, Donahue Finds Himself With Not One, but Two Quarterbacks
UCLA Coach Terry Donahue understands that Bruin fans want to know how spring practice went and what they can expect next fall. As usual, the senior quarterback graduated, so that raises the obvious question of who gets the job next. And for the first time in many years, there’s a new offensive coordinator, Steve Axman, replacing Homer Smith.
So what’s the word? Is the offense changing? Will the quarterback be junior Brendan McCracken from Loyola, who specializes in the option? Or will it be junior Troy Aikman, a strong passer who was influencing Oklahoma’s offense away from the option when he was the starter there in ’85? Will the choice of quarterback be linked to a change in the offense?
Donahue is more than happy to talk around those questions.
“One of our objectives was to come out of spring with an established quarterback, but we didn’t succeed in that goal,” he said. “The bulk of the work went to Troy Aikman and Brendan McCracken, but we also gave some work to (sophomore) Ron Caragher and (freshman) Bobby San Jose. They all had their days in the sun this spring. . . .
“I expect to name a starter a week to 10 days into the start of double days (fall practice). I don’t think you can go the whole camp and not give one player more work than the other. . . . Public outcry will probably force me to name a quarterback. . . .
“But we might play two quarterbacks. We might name a starter and reliever who plays frequently and freely. I’m not saying that we will do that, but we might. Both players have shown the capacity to lead our team to victory. . . . I’ve been pleased with the ability of both of them to run the option, pass and lead the team.”
Not naming a quarterback at this point does not indicate that he is hurting at that position, Donahue said. “It’s not a concern,” he said. “We have a quarterback. I just don’t know who he is.”
And what of the offense? The Bruins worked with split backs quite a bit this spring.
Donahue said: “We will not change dramatically. We’ll run the majority of our plays from the I formation. We’ll run some split backs and some single backs. We emphasized split backs more than normal in the spring because we’ve had a shortage of fullbacks. (Mel Farr was injured at the start of spring.)
“We’ll run more split backs because of the talent of the players in our backfield and our (lack of) depth at fullback. But it won’t be very noticeable. . . . When we do run it, it won’t necessarily be (Gaston) Green and (Eric) Ball all the time. They’ll be in the game together at times, if we can get them both healthy at the same time. But quite honestly, I’ve been pleased with (fullbacks) James Primus and Mel Farr. . . .
“Another aspect that we might emphasize a little more is the option, to take advantage of what Troy Aikman and Brendan McCracken can do. If we can get the ball to the outside, we can utilize our speed better on the corner. We’ve taken that from the inventory on the shelf and started dusting it off as a part of our offense.
“I’d like to have a little option in our offense . . . but any time you start pitching that ball around, you’re taking chances.”
Well, now those key questions are answered.
Another emphasis this spring was on getting physical. The Bruins substituted weight training for running at the close of each practice and concentrated a lot more on contact drills. All things considered, Donahue thought he was lucky to escape from spring practice with a lot of minor injuries but nothing catastrophic.
“Probably subconsciously, the thought of the Oklahoma and Nebraska games (in previous seasons) were the reason for that,” Donahue said. “Consciously, the reason for our more physical spring is that I felt, last year at times, we were not as competitive as we should have been. . . . We did more scrimmaging and more contact, more one-on-one and three-on-three competition. I wanted the atmosphere of competition. . . .
“The increase in weight training is to try to offset the use of steroids in college football. We have to find a way to compensate without getting into steroid use. Some of the other teams are just physically stronger than we are. I don’t think that’s news to say that steroids are quite prevalent in college football. I think it’s a matter of fact.”
Tailback Gaston Green spent most of spring on the sideline after taking a hit on his thigh that caused the muscle to knot up. And tailback Eric Ball, who missed about half of last season with a hamstring injury, missed the last few days of spring practice with a concussion. . . . David Richards, a 6-foot 5-inch, 305-pound senior transfer student, picked up when Southern Methodist was forced by NCAA sanctions to cancel its football season, finished spring practice listed as the starter at left offensive tackle. . . . . Work will begin Monday on a new practice field at the current Spaulding Field site, next to Pauley Pavilion. The existing field will be torn up to install a drainage and sprinkler system and a sand base. The grass is now planted on top of clay. The field will have a crown (higher in the center of the field) like the field at the Rose Bowl. Also, lights and bleachers will be added. It is scheduled for completion in time for the Bruins’ two-a-day practices in mid-August. . . . Donahue is picking Arizona State as the “odds-on” favorite to repeat as Pac-10 champion. He pointed out that, although Arizona State has lost some key players, they also return “many, many players from their Pac-10 champion, Rose Bowl champion, victorious team.” He said he would consider it absolutely beyond belief if Arizona State wasn’t the favorite. Lest anyone miss the point he is making with the overstatement--he always hated to be picked No. 1 based on a Rose Bowl victory. But he was serious in his pick, pointing out also that Arizona State does not play USC or Stanford and that the Sun Devils play UCLA at Tempe, Ariz.. . . . Donahue said that three or four incoming freshmen could “impact the team,” meaning that they could make the travel squad and get some playing time. He especially would like to get some help on the offensive line and in the kicking game, including a long snapper. Kicker Dominic Sandifer of Harvard High School in North Hollywood will have the opportunity to challenge Alfredo Velasco. . . . Jeff Glasser, who had been listed as a starting defensive tackle, missed spring practice with mononucleosis. Starting outside linebacker Eric Smith was out with a chronic back problem. And free safety James Washington, a three-year starter, was out after reinjuring a knee while working out on his own before practice started.