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Olson, Cowan Battling for Spot

Times Staff Writer

UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell is keeping open the quarterback competition involving sophomores Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan, but he has not ruled out selecting a starter before next week’s scrimmage.

“I’ve thought about that, but we still have some camp work to do,” Dorrell said after UCLA completed its first practice in full pads Friday. “We want to keep putting them into different situations.... We’re still trying to give both equal opportunities.”

Last season, Olson backed up senior starter Drew Olson, with Cowan as No. 3. But in spring drills, neither Ben Olson nor Cowan separated himself from the other and Dorrell kept the battle going into camp.

With both players getting work with the first-team offense, Olson appeared to have a slight edge early, but Cowan’s play has improved with each practice.

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“I haven’t seen a day yet where one had a great day and the other had a poor day,” Dorrell said. “It seems like they both have been consistent.... Basically, neither one has taken advantage of his opportunities.”

Olson is a more poised player with a better command of the offense than he was last year when competing for the job. But there are still times when he looks like a quarterback who has not started a game since his senior year at Thousand Oaks High in 2001. The 6-foot-5 lefty also broke his throwing hand and sat out three games last year.

Olson, rated the nation’s top high school player in 2002, transferred to UCLA after a two-year Mormon mission and a redshirt season at Brigham Young.

“You just have to roll with the punches,” said Olson, who attempted only four passes last season. “It would be nice to get some more reps and all, but I can’t control that. That’s Coach Dorrell’s call. All I can do is just try my best to help the team and to continue to make the most of what I’m given.”

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Cowan, who completed only five touchdown passes as a senior at Bellflower St. John Bosco High, was not a big-name recruit when he signed with UCLA in 2004. But he has quietly gained the respect of his teammates and coaching staff with steady improvement.

“I feel a lot more comfortable, especially with this camp,” said Cowan, whose younger brother Joe is a senior wide receiver. “Working out with the first team this summer and all the work I’ve done up to this point has helped.”

At 6-4 and 220 pounds, Cowan has gained nearly 30 pounds and doubled his bench press since his redshirt season in 2004.

But it’s his increased confidence and strong arm that made him a candidate to start this year.

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“The key for me is just concentrating play by play,” said Cowan, who has not attempted a pass in college. “Just focusing in on that one play because really, that’s all that matters at that time.”

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UCLA will begin two-a-day practices this morning at 9:15.... In Friday’s controlled scrimmage, safety Dennis Keyes was impressive with two interceptions, wide receiver Brandon Breazell made a difficult catch in traffic and linebacker Christian Taylor had a couple of solid tackles on inside runs. Defensive tackles Kevin Brown and Brigham Harwell worked with the second unit and controlled the line of scrimmage.... Backup center Nathan Skaggs is wearing a cast on his left hand, his non-snapping hand.


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