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Keyes Plays Way Back to First Unit

Times Staff Writer

Dennis Keyes, UCLA redshirt junior free safety, started nine games last season and was involved in some big plays.

Not all of them were positive for the Bruins, though, and Keyes was replaced by Chris Horton for the last two games.

Keyes is back with the first team now, playing next to Horton, who replaces Jarrad Page, now with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, at strong safety. And Keyes has made his presence felt with an interception nearly every day in team passing drills.

“I’m more experienced and mentally stronger now,” said Keyes, who had 57 tackles, including two sacks. “I’ve seen the game now and I have experienced a full season as a player. That makes a big difference at this level.”

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Early last season, Keyes stepped up in UCLA’s victory over Oklahoma, forcing two fumbles, one of them quarterback Rhett Bomar’s turnover that was returned by Spencer Havner 13 yards for a touchdown. A few weeks later, Keyes had another big game with a team-high 11 tackles, including three for losses, in UCLA’s victory over California.

But Keyes, who does not have a game interception, also missed opportunities to make more plays.

“He’s always had a nose for the ball but the question was his assertiveness in doing that,” Coach Karl Dorrell said. “He was the same way last year, but he wouldn’t come up strong or he would drop the passes. Now he is starting to catch them.

“He does have a great feel for reading the quarterback and he’s made some plays already.”

Keyes, who led Lake Balboa Birmingham High to the L.A. City Section championship as a running back-safety in 2002, says first-year defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker has helped him trust his football instinct, which has led to his strong start in camp.

“I’ve been doing better with my eyes, reading plays,” said Keyes, who at 6 feet 2 and 194 pounds provides size and speed in the secondary. “Coach Walker has told me to trust my eyes and make plays. It’s a big difference for me. Before, I would be out on the field guessing and not reading the offense. Now, I’m more focused and making plays.”

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No. 3 quarterback Osaar Rasshan, a redshirt freshman, has shown signs that he can play for the Bruins, a contrast to his camp struggles a year ago, which led to his playing only on the scout team.

Rasshan, a 6-4, 208-pound athlete from Pomona Garey, has regularly completed passes in team and seven-on-seven drills.

“This is his first year in the offense, really, so he’s a little bit behind the other guys,” Dorrell said. “But he’s a real talented kid. A great athlete who can move around, with a good arm.

“I like the feature of what Osaar is going to bring to UCLA football. He needs a good year to grow to learn in our system and develop his fundamentals as a quarterback. I think he’s going to be a ‘lights-out’ guy.”

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UCLA will practice on its new field turf at Spaulding Field tonight at 8. The Bruins also will practice this morning on the intramural field.... Saturday’s scrimmage, free to the public, will go from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Drake Stadium. Players and coaches will be available for autographs until 1 p.m.... Cornerback Rodney Van sat out practice as a precaution. He was involved in a field collision Monday.... End Nikola Dragovic remains day to day because of a hamstring injury.


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