Kids will get their chances
UCLA went through the first day of practice Tuesday and Coach Rick Neuheisel walked off impressed with the incoming freshman class.
“Our young skill position guys are gifted kids,” Neuheisel said, referring to his running backs and defensive backs.
They may have to be, especially in the secondary, where the Bruins lacked depth even before strong safety Bret Lockett was suspended for the opener against Tennessee.
Defensive backs Rahim Moore, Tony Dye and Aaron Hester will get long looks during training camp, with playing time available for all who seem ready.
“If they’re 13 years old and they can play, then they will play,” defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. “I don’t care about their ages, as long as they can get the job done. In college football, there are some positions where you can get away with having a freshman in the lineup. We’ll look to see if they can handle it.”
Cornerback Alterraun Verner is the only returning starter in the secondary, though Lockett, free safety Aaron Ware and cornerback Michael Norris all gained experience last season.
“I’m just learning, learning, learning until I can’t learn anymore,” Moore said. “To have a chance to play as a true freshman, I couldn’t ask for anything better. I told Coach Walker if I’m not ready, I’m not ready, but if I’m ready, I want to be on the field.”
Quarterback Ben Olson went through the first day of practice without incident. Olson suffered a broken bone in his left foot during spring practice.
“I’m pretty tired and I’m not 100%, but it is feeling better and better,” Olson said.
Neuheisel was looking for Olson to police himself.
“He has to be honest with us about the foot,” Neuheisel said. “If it is sore, we have to back him down.”
Olson said he has a better grasp on the scheme offensive coordinator Norm Chow has installed. Chow said Olson is getting rid of the ball quicker than he did in spring.
“That was the goal during the off-season,” Chow said. “It’s tough to protect for a long period of time. He has to get rid of the ball. Today was a good start.
“Hopefully he takes this thing and runs with it, knowing that he’s the guy and knowing that he’s the leader, and plays the way he should.”
Nick Ekbatani, who played guard and center during spring practice, has been moved to right tackle, where he will compete with Mike Harris for a starting spot. . . . Quarterback Patrick Cowan, who underwent surgery on his right knee Tuesday, will join the team as a student assistant. . . . Linebacker Josh Edwards has a stress fracture in his foot but should be ready by Sunday.