Olson hopes it all takes shape

Times Staff Writer

The two sides of Ben Olson were on display during UCLA’s practice Thursday.

There was the Big Ben, lofting a pass worthy of a how-to video, that wide receiver Taylor Embree snagged for a long gain during seven-on-seven drills. Later it was the other guy, as Olson forced a pass into coverage that was intercepted by linebacker Akeem Ayers.

This is the daily drill, as Olson prepares for his final season.

He is learning from a fourth offensive coordinator -- though it is quarterback guru Norm Chow -- while trying to work himself into shape playing on a sore right foot.


“Some days it feels better than others,” Olson said. “You’re not going to feel great playing football. It’s just one of those things you got to deal with and I felt we did some good things today.”

Always a glass-is-half-full guy, Olson added, “We got to work through our kinks. I am encouraged where we’re going and what we’re doing. We have made a lot of mistakes, but we have shown signs of improvement.”

It has been far from easy.

Spring practice went from bad, when Olson lost the starting quarterback job to Patrick Cowan, to worse, when Olson suffered a broken bone in his foot that required a steel rod be inserted.


Still, he entered training camp as the No. 1 quarterback, as Cowan is out for the season because of a knee injury. Olson was cleared to practice a week before training camp.

“It’s sore,” Olson said of the foot. “It’s one of those things that I got to plow through. I’m not in good shape either, so I’m battling that too. I just have to keep pushing.”

Olson does so as he is scrutinized by Chow and Coach Rick Neuheisel, who offered a lukewarm statement before camp that Olson would get the first opportunity at the job. Neuheisel’s assessment has edged a bit more toward enthusiastic since training camp began, saying Wednesday that Olson “has all the tools.”

But the foot remains an issue.


“He’s sore,” Neuheisel said. “I guess that’s to be expected when scar tissue breaks from healing, but he’s pushing through it. Hopefully he’ll get to be the consistent player we need him to be.”

Still, Neuheisel was clear that, “I don’t mind if the foot is the reason for the non-sharpness. But I do mind when it’s his decision-making. The key is for him to stay as consistent as he can be in his decision-making, so we can count on where the ball is going to go and know that it is going to go in the proper place.”

Any happy returns?

Special teams coach Frank Gansz Jr. is searching for someone to plug the biggest hole in the Bruins’ roster: kickoff return specialist Matthew Slater.


Slater, now with the New England Patriots, was an All-American last season, when he averaged 29 yards a return and took three kicks back for touchdowns.

Gansz had what amounted to a casting call before practice the last two days, with 14 players getting looked at for punt and kickoff returns.

“I have an idea in the back of my mind what I want to do, but I haven’t told any of the players yet,” Gansz said, who added that the player “has to be able to catch the ball, that’s the main thing. Other things we look for is the ability to change direction, balance, speed, vision.”

Cornerback Mike Norris and tailback Raymond Carter are two of the players who are hoping to get the nod.


“I have always wanted to do returns, so I asked Coach Gansz and he said to get out there before practice,” Carter said. “I’m trying to do everything I can to help the team and get on the field.”

Norris played on the return team last season. He averaged 19.2 yards on six returns.

“The little time I got back there last year was exciting for me,” Norris said. “I’m trying to do it all. I’m trying to make it all happen.”

Medical report


Guard Scott Glicksberg sat out a second consecutive practice because of flu-like symptoms, Neuheisel said. . . . Defensive tackle Jerzy Siewierski left practice early because of dehydration, Neuheisel said.