UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel belted out the words loud and slow, so quarterback Chris Forcier was certain to hear.
“You’re just playing catch,” Neuheisel screamed as a Forcier pass to a wide open receiver sailed high during a drill.
Forcier is finding that greater responsibility will bring greater scrutiny. His status was elevated considerably Sunday, as the Bruins learned that starting quarterback Ben Olson would be lost for at least eight weeks after breaking the fifth metatarsal, the bone that connects to the little toe, in his right foot for the second time in four months.
Though Olson, who will miss at least five games, vowed to return, the injury left junior Kevin Craft and Forcier as the Bruins’ Plan B . . . at least at the moment.
Moments after being shouted at, Forcier flicked an on-target pass, bringing praise from Neuheisel: “There, see? Now how many times in a row can you do that?”
The Bruins are staging a quarterback competition three weeks before the season opener against Tennessee. Craft, a transfer from Mt. San Antonio College, and Forcier, a redshirt freshman, will get close looks in the coming weeks, with junior Osaar Rasshan seemingly a longshot candidate.
The competition became necessary after Olson faked a handoff Saturday, then took a misstep.
“I knew something was wrong,” Olson said in a teleconference call. “I was hoping I only tweaked it a little bit.”
Olson underwent X-rays Sunday morning, which confirmed the re-injury to the same bone he’d broken during spring practice.
“It’s a crushing blow to the young man,” Neuheisel said. “He put so much time and effort into the program, it’s just really unfortunate. Sometimes you have a hard time understanding why things happen.”
For Olson, it was the latest disappointment in a star-crossed career.
As a sophomore in 2006, he tore a knee ligament in the fifth game against Arizona and was lost for the season. Last season, he missed one game with concussion-like symptoms and five others because of an injured right knee. He has started only 10 games since transferring to UCLA from Brigham Young.
“It’s definitely been tough,” Olson said. “You’re not able to accomplish the goals you set. It’s very frustrating because it seems every year that my progression as a quarterback has been halted by injury. But whining and complaining about things and asking ‘why did this happen to me?’ does no good. You have to push forward.”
Olson will decide in the next few days whether to again have a screw placed in the foot to help it heal. The projected recovery time is the same whether he has the surgery or not.
But even after eight weeks, Olson still would have to get into playing shape, as well as brush up on the new system being installed by offensive coordinator Norm Chow.
Still, he was adamant that his career at UCLA was not over.
“I expect to be back this year, definitely,” Olson said. “I want to play in the worst way. I’m upset about it and I’m just trying to figure out the best way to get on the field and practice.”
The Bruins, meanwhile, will move on and prepare for Tennessee.
Forcier has made himself a candidate since training camp began. It has been a long climb from running the scout team last season.
But with Olson out and Craft struggling at times, Forcier has become a viable option.
“This could be my only shot to prove myself,” said Forcier, who played at St. Augustine High in San Diego. “It might not come back again. I’ve got to make the most of it.”
Craft was brought in as a safety net in the spring and became even more vital after Patrick Cowan, the team’s No. 1 quarterback, suffered a season-ending knee injury.
“Right now the focus is on getting better every day and getting familiar with the offense,” Craft said. “I need to show Coach Chow that I know where he wants me to put the ball.”
Chow said Olson’s injury will alter the offense somewhat, because “we’ve got to figure out what these guys can do, what their strengths are. I always believe you magnify the skill of the players you have.”
Forcier and Craft shared time with the first team in Sunday’s two practices. Neither was overwhelming, but Forcier’s speed and agility was an added element, one that could be an asset playing behind an inexperienced offensive line.
“He’s got some magic to him,” Neuheisel said. “He has to become an expert on this offense. Last year he was playing off some cards [as the scout team quarterback]. Now he has to be thorough in his preparation and we need to see if he’s ready to make it.”
Craft, too, has his downsides.
“I think his mind knows what to do, but his body has to respond to the mind and not be jerky about it,” Neuheisel said.
Neuheisel said the Bruins would need to have a starter in place a week before the Tennessee game, “at the very least.” He and Chow could move closer to a decision after a full scrimmage Saturday.
“I like to put pressure on the quarterback, because that’s what they need come game time,” Chow said. “The sad part is this is college football, there are no preseason games. You’ve got to learn under fire.”
Tackle Mike Harris suffered an ankle injury during practice and was taken off the field in a cart.