UCLA returned to the practice field Tuesday for the first time since their last-second 17-14 victory over Oregon State and the emotion of that victory seemed to still be with the Bruins.
It was one of the more spirited and intense practices of the season, with loud yelling, trash talking and intense play. Although it was not a live hitting practice -- the players were in shorts and shoulder pads -- there were some solid hits. A couple of minor skirmishes broke out but no punches were thrown.
"They were out here having fun and I did not want to curtail it," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "I wanted it to be that. Football is supposed to be fun. It’s a hard game to practice but when you get that kind of energy you want to capitalize on it. And I told them that if we have anything less than that kind of enthusiasm from here on out, we’re cheating ourselves."
The defense seemed to instigate the intensity, with the defensive players celebrating every good play they made. The offense responded by doing the same. Several times, players circled around each other yelling and screaming and jumping up and down in unison.
"I think defensively after setting the tone against Oregon State we wanted to keep that going and keep that fun and excitement going," defensive back Sheldon Price said. "It’s good to see that we’re real excited about coming out to practice because a lot of times guys come out flat and stuff like that. But to have this type of practice is good for the program."
Neuheisel said practices like this during a bye week can help take the program to the next level.
"Guys were excited to be on a football team practicing today and we consequently got better," Neuheisel said. "We need that energy throughout the rest of our season if we’re going to make it a successful season."
A few tidbits:
Guard Eddie Williams sat out of practice because of a sprained right ankle. He wore a protective walking boot, but was not using crutches. Neuheisel said he would probably miss a few days. "We're just trying to get him well." Freshman Chris Ward took his spot with the first team.
Price went through the entire practice, working mostly with the second unit, as he tries to recover from a sprained knee. Price suited up against Oregon State, but did not play. He said his knee still bothered him a bit, but that it was getting better every day and that he probably could have played a few series on Saturday. "Today was the best it felt in a long time," he said. "It still gives out a little bit, but I felt great out there."
Running back Malcolm Jones has looked as good as he has all season the past couple of weeks, showing the type of burst and quickness that made him the Gatorade national high school player of the year last year. Neuheisel said Jones might have been hiding an injury. "I don’t know that he was totally healthy," Neuheisel said. "I think he was kind of nursing an ankle back to health and I think you can see a little more bounce in his step right now." Jones said he was not injured, just that he's figuring out how to practice at the college level. "I’m going full speed every single play," Jones said. "Over the season I feel like I’ve picked up my practice habits a lot."
Center Kai Maiava, out because of a broken ankle, was on crutches Tuesday and out of the protective ankle boot he had been wearing. Maiava had been riding in an electric cart the past two months, but said he can now put pressure on the ankle. Still, it is doubtful he will return this season.
Linebacker Steve Sloan did not suit up for practice, still nursing a hamstring strain he suffered against Arizona. Safety Dalton Hilliard did not suit up Tuesday, but Neuheisel said he would be in a red no-contact jersey on Wednesday as he completes the concussion protocol. Hilliard was hurt in practice two weeks ago.