Verner takes primary role in secondary

Times Staff Writer

Alterraun Verner went from the kid on the right in the UCLA secondary to the role model for the group.

UCLA has veterans Aaron Ware and Bret Lockett at safety, once Lockett serves his one-game suspension, and senior Michael Norris at the other cornerback spot.

But Verner, a junior, is the only returning starter and has assumed a prominent role in the unit's development.

"He's been waiting for his turn; now it's his turn," defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. "He has taken a little more role in leadership. He's quiet by nature, but when he talks, the guys listen."

Verner didn't have to talk much last season, just play. He started 11 games and finished with four interceptions, none bigger then the one he returned for a touchdown that clinched a 30-21 victory over California.

The Bruins had to replace starters Chris Horton, Dennis Keyes and Trey Brown with Ware, Lockett and Norris, leaving the depth mostly in the hands of freshmen.

"I'm one of the more experienced guys, and usually I can help young guys, tell them what to do, how to adapt to situations," Verner said. "Last year, those guys told me what to do; this year it's my responsibility."

Freshman Rahim Moore, who will start in place of Lockett against Tennessee on Monday, said he has benefited greatly from Verner's guidance.

"He's amazing," Moore said. "Off the field, he's a cool dude. You know he talks a lot, and dances too. On the field, he is so focused. When he tells you something, you listen because he's like a coach on the field."


No-contact contact drill

Wide receiver Terrence Austin had to leave the field, and Coach Rick Neuheisel was left screaming, "What is going on? This is a no-contact drill," during Monday's practice.

The consternation came from a botched play, in which Moore intercepted a pass, then fumbled. When he reached for the ball, "Terrence got his hand caught in there," Neuheisel said.

X-rays on Austin's wrist were negative, Neuheisel said, and the coach's relief was evident. A receiver with big-play speed, Austin is the Bruins' top punt and kickoff returner.

"It's always nerve-racking when you think you're going to lose somebody who needs to play," Neuheisel said. "It was a no-hit drill; that's why I was a little irritated."


What's the line?

Tackle Micah Kia had the cast on his broken left hand wrapped Monday but did not participate in drills. Neuheisel said he expected Kia to be in the lineup against Tennessee.

Tailback Kahlil Bell jumped to the defense of the inexperienced Bruins line.

"These guys are taking heat every single day, every single practice, where someone has something to say negatively about them," Bell said. "Honestly, if anyone pays attention and actually watches practice, they can see that they're doing just fine."


Three and out

Defensive tackle Brigham Harwell (back spasms) practiced Monday but said he still felt pain afterward. He is expected to play Monday. . . . Tackle Mike Harris (high ankle sprain) returned to practice but was limited to individual workouts. . . . Quarterback Osaar Rasshan was unable to practice because of continuing soreness in his left knee. Neuheisel ruled out Rasshan for Monday's game and said that freshman Kevin Prince will be the Bruins' third-string quarterback.


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