Same old story for UCLA: QB injuries
LOS ANGELES -- New UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel faces the same problem that's plagued the Bruins the past two seasons -- quarterback injuries. With Patrick Cowan and Ben Olson out, junior college transfer Kevin Craft will fill in for at least a couple months.
Neuheisel, the former Bruins' quarterback who replaced the fired Karl Dorrell, already faced a rebuilding job. That task became considerably more difficult when Cowan and Olson got hurt. Compounding that, UCLA's offensive line was thin heading into the fall, and injuries have depleted it even more.
Craft, who played in nine games for San Diego State as a redshirt freshman two years ago before transferring to a junior college, may need to have a really quick release and be nimble on his feet since the line in front of him could be porous. And if the Bruins can't run the ball, the picture becomes even bleaker.
Despite the setbacks and a tough schedule that begins Sept. 1 with No. 18 Tennessee at the Rose Bowl, Neuheisel is thinking positive.
"I just believe that we've got to be relentlessly optimistic about what can be and keep giving ourselves chances to win football games," he said. "The beautiful thing about football is you don't have to win by 20. You just have to win by one.
"So we're going to work hard to be in every game and give ourselves a chance for good things to happen at the end. I think we're going to find a way to surprise some folks."
The Bruins seemed to be a team on the rise when they went 10-2 under Dorrell in 2005. But over the past two seasons, both Olson and Cowan were in and out of the lineup because of injuries, and UCLA went 7-6 in 2006 and 6-7 last year.
As an example of how bad their quarterback woes were, in a 20-6 defeat by Notre Dame last October that ended the Irish's 0-5 start, Olson was injured in the first quarter, Cowan already was out, and the Bruins were down to redshirt freshman McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
A walk-on who had never thrown a pass in a college game, he had four passes intercepted by the Irish.
Dorrell was let go on Dec. 3, before the Bruins lost to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl, and Neuheisel took the job at the end of the month.
Asked about the injuries at quarterback, Neuheisel smiled and said, "You don't get to go to the waiver wire in college. That's a fact. But that being said, one of the great things about college football is there's always somebody who gets a fresh opportunity.
"In the quarterback situation, it's Kevin Craft and I think he'll do well."
One plus for Craft is that he has been working under the watchful eye of Norm Chow, hired by Neuheisel as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Chow groomed Heisman winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at Southern California, and Ty Detmer at BYU.
Chow's coaching resume includes six quarterbacks who were first-round picks in the NFL -- Palmer, Leinart, Philip Rivers, Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Marc Wilson.
"He's really specific, really attentive," Craft said of Chow. "He knows exactly what he wants and how he wants things done. He's going to keep pushing, keep grinding on us and make it hard on us in practice so that in a game we'll be relaxed."
Neuheisel and Chow have brought a different tone to Bruins' practices.
"Coach Dorrell was a little more reserved, and Coach Neuheisel is a little more outgoing, a little more vocal," said tight end Logan Paulsen, expected to be a bright spot this season. "I think the guys, especially the young guys, have responded well to his outgoing nature.
"He definitely is a very dynamic personality."
Olson, once one of the nation's most coveted high school passers, had the latest setback in his injury-interrupted, spotty career when he broke his right foot at practice on Aug. 9. It was the same injury he had in spring practice, when Cowan briefly won the starting job before being sidelined for the year by a knee injury. Olson is expected to miss at least two months.
The lanky 6-foot-5, 205-pound Craft, who transferred from Mt. San Antonio Junior College last spring, at least brings some experience to the position. He completed 69 of 121 passes for 737 yards and four touchdowns at San Diego State when his father, Tom, was the Aztecs' coach.
When his father left to become offensive coordinator at Mt. SAC in the Los Angeles suburbs, Kevin went along. He was 313-for-511 for 4,231 yards, 44 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season as the Mounties went 10-3 and won the Southern California junior college championship.
Craft said the UCLA situation is similar to his experience at San Diego State, where he was third on the depth chart and became the starter when the two quarterbacks in front of him were hurt.
"So I know what to expect," he said. "But these are all new guys, it's a whole new team and a new system. We're all just trying to get on the same page right now, tightening up some of the smaller details.
"We see some really good things on tape, we've just got to fix some minor things."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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