Offense showing signs of progress

Times Staff Writer

Quarterback Ben Olson took three choppy steps back, then flung the ball toward the sideline, where Osaar Rasshan cradled it.

A few plays later, Olson hurled a pass in the general direction of Marcus Everett, who could only watch as the ball sailed over toward Pauley Pavilion.

Later, Olson hurled a strike to Terrence Austin cutting across the middle for a tidy gain.

How near the Bruins get to the sky’s-the-limit expectations placed on them will hinge on whether the offense can make the same leap in effectiveness the defense made a year ago. The schemes new offensive coordinator Jay Norvell brought with him will take time to hone, as was the case when DeWayne Walker came in as defensive coordinator last season.

But while offensive growing pains were apparent this week, there were signs of progress Sunday.


“Practice is practice, and sometimes it is not pretty,” Olson said. “But we’ve reached the point where the coaches have backed off installing plays. We can work on what has already been put in and it has looked a lot better.”

The offense, though far from ready for the opener at Stanford, was not overwhelmed by the Bruins’ defense, for the first time since training camp began.

“You want to make sure you play with consistency,” Coach Karl Dorrell said. “You saw some great plays today. . . . Receivers were making some plays downfield, some big throws and big runs, stuff like that. Those are real, real good signs of an offense that’s coming together and making some plays in critical situations.”

Olson is the linchpin, which made Sunday’s practice -- his most consistent day of camp so far -- a positive step.

“He feels more comfortable being in a leadership position, being the quarterback and managing the offense,” Dorrell said. “He’s had so much thrown at him, then when the information starts to slow down, he’s able to digest everything that we’ve put in.”

With guard Shannon Tevaga sidelined because of shoulder and wrist injuries, the Bruins are getting indications about whether their offensive-line depth has improved. Senior P.J. Irvin and junior Nathaniel Skaggs have spent time with the starting unit.

After sophomore tackle Aleksey Lanis, the unit’s quality was still in development when first-year offensive line coach Bob Connelly arrived to push it along. The fix required more than just increasing strength or shedding unwanted pounds, though that helped in some cases -- Brandon Bennett and Sonny Tevaga lost about 50 pounds each.

“It’s about being physical,” Connelly said. “Part of that is conditioning, but part is knowledge. You have to play fast. If you’re thinking about what your assignment is when you’re on the line, you can’t be physical. I think we’ve closed the gap between the starters and reserves.”

The daily injury report came with a warning label Sunday.

“I don’t like talking about injuries just because you guys write it down,” Dorrell said. “I read everything about Stanford. . . . The less you guys know, then I know it’s not getting reported. But I am telling you . . . what’s going on with our injuries, but I’m not going to elaborate on anything other than that.

“I read everything on my opponent and I’m going to try to restrict as much as he knows about me.”

That being said . . .

Starting defensive tackle Kevin Brown “tweaked” the quadriceps in his right leg, Dorrell said, and had to leave practice. Like Shannon Tevaga, strong safety Chris Horton (hamstring) and fullback Michael Pitre (left knee) have been unable to practice.

Pitre sat out the last two days after having fluid drained from the knee, on which he underwent surgery in the off-season. Until he returns, sophomore Trevor Theriot, redshirt freshman Dylan Rush -- a converted defensive end -- and senior walk-on Chad Moline are the team’s only fullbacks.