Aug. 9, 2010
LOS ANGELES - UCLA Head Coach Rick Neuheisel Opening Statement for Media Day:
"Welcome back, everybody, to football season. It's an exciting time. It's what we work around the calendar pointing towards and obviously we are thrilled that it's finally here. We had a great meeting last night with the team, talking about our goals and aspirations for this season. We did mention to them where the prognosticators had us located, at the No. 8 spot in our conference, and hopefully we are going to be better than that. I know that we believe we can be and we know that there will be a lot of work involved in terms of dealing with a rigorous schedule. We feel like we have made some progress in our program over the last couple of years and we are anxious to get back into a conference title race and we're looking forward to having that happen. It is easy to talk about. Now we have to go out and do it. And that's why it is fun to be back in short pants and on the field."
"With respect to our football team, I believe we have some real strengths. Obviously our special teams are going to be a strength this year. We return the top kicker in the country in Kai Forbath. Jeff Locke had 20 kicks for touchbacks last year and was a real field possession weapon. He had over a 38-yard net punting average, which was in the top 20 in the country, so we have a chance to be a special (no pun intended) special team operation and I'm looking forward to that being a weapon. And I mentioned that to our football team because it bears mentioning that we just can't beat ourselves on either side of the ball. We just can't turn it over. We looked back, just bringing up one game, the Oregon game, and there we are giving up a kickoff return and an interception return in a game that is see-sawing back and forth and then we are out of the game. Those are the kind of things that as a football team, we can't afford. So we can't beat ourselves. And we are going to talk openly about turnover margin and making sure that we are as fundamentally sound as we can be. It is a challenge to our coaches to make sure that everybody understands that and that we get that kind of play from all positions and all factions of our team."
"I believe that we are going to be a faster team than we were a year ago. I think we recruited well in terms of speed. I think guys like Randall Carroll and Josh Smith are going to have an influence with respect to our speed. Damien Thigpen, Sheldon Price and all those other kids that are track-type guys also have a year of experience under their belt, so I think their speed will start to show up on the field. I'm very optimistic about our ability to run. In the last couple years we have sat here and talked about the issues with our running game and that's going to be a huge point of emphasis. It's the reason that we had to change and go and find some other answers. So we have incorporated some measure of the pistol offense, borrowed from Nevada. Hopefully we can put our own spin on it and have people calling it something that is more synonymous with UCLA than somebody else. But it's a movement and understanding that to run the football is pivotal to our success. Because it will help change the field position and lend itself to the kicking game that we've talked about and it will also take a lot of pressure off both the front, from a protection standpoint, and off our quarterback, as he continues to mature. But I believe that we are on the right page. I think that there is ample evidence that it can be successful. And now it's just about executing and that's what we are working hard at this time to get accomplished."
"I'm fired up about our quarterback. I think that his numbers were fairly good for a guy who hadn't played in two seasons. Remember he didn't play as a senior in high school as he lost that season to a knee injury. So for a guy who hadn't played in two seasons, to come in and play like he did, I think was admirable. Certainly there were growing pains, but I do believe that he has done the necessary work to master the offense, especially in the throwing game. He'll come into his own in the running game because he's got what it takes to be successful as a quarterback in this style of offense. And I just think it is fun now to finally have an experienced quarterback coming back to play. That, coupled with experience in the offensive line, lends more optimism and I believe that we are on the right track."
"We need to find big plays. I mentioned speed in Randall (Carroll) and Josh (Smith) and hopefully we can get big plays out of them. But I also think that Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree, now back for their third year of experience, I think that we can start to jump with respect to their abilities to make plays down the field. I think Joseph Fauria, with his range, is going to be a big play type of guy. He's a 6-foot-7 target with great hands. And then we wait to see which tailback bursts onto the scene and can take it the distance. We saw Johnathan Franklin do that last year and we've seen glimpses of Derrick Coleman. And then obviously when you bring in Malcolm Jones and Jordon James and sprinkling in Anthony Barr, those are all three very talented guys, highly coveted guys, and it will be fun to see if they can have that magic that turns a seven-yard gain into a 70-yard gain."
"Defensively, the big question is how do you replace Brian Price and Alterraun Verner. Certainly those are tough guys to replace because they were big-play guys and game-changing guys. But that's the beauty of college football. Every team around the country has to replace somebody that they counted on and we are no different. I believe that with the development of our defensive line ¬- David Carter, Justin Edison, and Nate Chandler, having moved over there and had a very surprising success at defensive line in the spring, coupled with some incoming guys - we'll be fine in the defensive front. Only time will tell. And whether or not that we'll make the tackles for loss that Brian (Price) made, I think we'll have to wait and see. I don't want to say that we won't, but we'll have to wait and see. But we can make them at other positions. Akeem Ayers is a gifted guy. He's as good of a linebacker prospect as there is in the country. And I think that Pat Larimore, the way he flew around in spring ball and the way he looks coming back to camp at 245 pounds, I like what we are going to get out of him. Glenn Love made the transition to linebacker seamlessly and he and Sean Westgate is kind of a tandem, and then sprinkle in some of the young linebacker prospects and we'll see what we have. I think our safeties are great. Obviously we start with Rahim (Moore), a guy coming back with 10 interceptions last year and 13 in his career in only two seasons. I think Rahim (Moore) is a bona fide big-time player. He'll cause teams to lean away from him, which gives chances to guys like Tony Dye. I believe, that if you look at prototype corners, the body type is going to be an Aaron Hester or Sheldon Price. That's what they look like. They are 6-foot-2 guys with high hips that can both run sub-10.5 and now they have to go out and play. Both have gotten their feet wet, Sheldon (Price) having to come in because of Aaron's (Hester) injury last year. Both had great springs and we are anxious to see that they can be the kind of players that we believe them to be."
"I like our football team. I know there are questions marks as there always are with respect to experience. I know there are question marks because we haven't done it in the running game to date. And that's why the smart guys decided we were eighth. But I believe we are better than that. I believe we are going to prove that. And the good news is we do get to play the games. And I'm looking forward to that opportunity."
On lack of senior leadership:
"We don't have a great deal, but I still think we have some quality seniors and some quality senior leadership. I think Micah Kia is in that category. He's been terrific since I arrived. He's obviously had his share of adversity with the knee injury a year ago, but I think that he'll provide just that, that kind of senior leadership. Defensively, we've only got David Carter in the starting group, but he's at the point in his career that he wants to make sure that everybody gives their best, and I think that will be a positive with respect to leadership. I don't think you have to have seniors to do that job. I think you can have some other guys; certainly they look to Kevin Prince, a captain that was elected by his teammates. Rahim Moore and Akeem Ayers are in that category, and those are all quality choices as we get ready to go. But leadership will be a key, there's no question."
On whether or not Brian Price is the biggest individual loss in the Pac-10:
"For our football team, there's no question. I'd say Toby Gerhardt was a pretty good player for Stanford. There are a number of teams that were impacted in more ways than just what you saw on the field. But Brian (Price) and AV (Alterraun Verner) certainly were important guys to our football team."
On Micah Kia's health:
On Akeem Ayer's big plays versus mistakes:
"The only time Akeem (Ayers) gets into trouble is when he tries to do too much, because he has great instincts. When he tries to make plays that aren't really his plays to make, that's when he leaves a gap open and things like that. So as he matures and realizes how important he is to us, he needs to trust that we're going to give him chances to make plays. Whether it is in nickel packages or what have you, his numbers are going to come. Just play the defense as it is designed and play will be funneled back to you. But you don't want to take that completely away from him because we are the benefactor of his instinct."
On how the pistol offense plays into Kevin Prince's strengths:
"The easiest way for me to describe the pistol, and the Nevada coaches may cringe when I say this because it may not be anywhere close to what they envisioned, but I'd say it is a veer offense from the gun. Pistol is borrowed from the gun offense so the quarterback is in the shotgun. Normally in the shotgun, backs are offset, either to your right or to your left. In Oregon and Florida's offense, they almost always have a guy to the side and there's a lot of lateral movement. Veer offense is a ride to the side, if you will, where you are reading a guy as he's coming down hill and you are leaving an end of line defender unblocked so that you can get up to the next level with an offensive tackle or offensive guard or what have you. So our tailback in this new offense is directly behind the quarterback, maybe a half a yard to a yard deeper than he would be if we were under center. So we have the ability now to hold the defense. They can't just see lateral movement and predict which way this back is going. He could go either way. It has been hugely successful for Nevada. They had three 1,000-yard rushers last year, two tailbacks and a quarterback. And as our special teams coach, Frank Gansz likes to say, `that's proof.' That's validity. We believe that this can give us an answer. I know there's been a lot of question as to Kevin's (Prince) durability, how many times he can carry a ball. In watching the offense and having my own experiences going with a veer and a couple of veer schemes when I was coaching at Washington, the quarterback certainly does get tackled at times, but you can control how many times you want that to happen. In the plays that our quarterbacks got hurt, they were both passing plays where he was scrambling. So it is not as though you can completely take him away from harm's way."
On other alternatives looked at to help the running game:
"We looked at the top running teams in the country and saw what they were doing and certainly some just had great personnel and good depth. As we saw what we could get to and what we could get to fast, this was the one that raised its red flag and said, `hey, take a look at us.' And again, I have experience with some veer option and that was the only time my team was the leader in rushing yards, so I know that this can be successful."
On how much of UCLA's success depends on the quarterback:
"I think every team has to have a quality quarterback. There are examples around college football that the quarterback just has to keep from losing the game. But those are hugely talented teams. Those are ones that when they line up, have an advantage. In this conference, given the caliber of teams in this conference, we are not going to line up with that advantage. So we have to have great play from our quarterback, and I think we are on schedule. We played with a freshman quarterback last year. And we had growing pains. That's just part of it. But the upside is; now he's a sophomore and we have the benefit of all that experience. A number of teams lost their quarterback and now that have to have another guy rise up, and there's a learning curve, no question about it."
On whether or not UCLA was a team that needed the quarterback to not lose a game the last two years:
"Ideally, it would have been wonderful if we would have been able to limit the amount of times Kevin Craft or Kevin Prince had to throw the ball. But if the running game isn't getting done what needs to get done, you have to keep track of the score and find ways to get back into the game. So both of those kids had to come under duress because we were playing with inexperienced offensive lines and protection was an issue and that's why turnovers were rampant in year one. We tried to curtail that last year, but certainly it wasn't error free. It never will be error free, but we can be better. And you can create more big plays the closer people have to get to the box because you can actually run the football."
On what kind of balance (run/pass) the offense needs to be successful:
"In talking with Nevada, one of the things they felt they had to do was throw the ball better. We feel like we are close to where we need to be as a throwing team and we think our running game can help us. But we know what we are doing, throwing, and we can certainly complete more passes and get a higher completion percentage and we're looking for a few more big plays. But I think that will come because people will get closer to the line of scrimmage because we are actually able to get four yards a carry."
On the benefits of having more depth at practice:
"That's huge from a number of standpoints. Number one, you have more depth on gameday if somebody gets tired or hurt. Number two, you have competition, and competition makes everybody work a little bit harder. Playing time is the ultimate carrot coaches possess. And the more people are fighting for it, the better your team gets."
On the risk/reward of the pistol offense:
"Certainly there is a learning curve, and that's why we had to dive into it during spring ball and not spend any time doing anything else that we know how to do. And we are going to invest in it this fall. Does that mean it will be 100 percent of our game plan when we get to Kansas State, I don't think so. But we have to get to a level of efficiency at it that allows us to think that it's a prudent move. But, when you talk risk/reward, there was zero risk in making a change, because what we had done wasn't working. We couldn't sit and tell ourselves, like some person looking in a mirror and telling ourselves we're skinny, when we're not. You got to go get on a diet. You got to face the facts. And we had to face the facts that we needed to change who we were as a running football team and figure out another way to do it. Our depth isn't at a place that we can go out there and line-up and whip people doing things the old-fashioned way. You have to keep up with the trends in football and not be afraid to put your neck out there a little bit. I hope it is a permanent fix. Is it a permanent offense, no? But I want to be at a permanent place in the top half of this conference in rushing offense. Because if we could do that, I know we could handle the rest of it and we'll be right back in the conference race and we'll get back to UCLA winning Rose Bowls."
On how much going to a Bowl game and winning it helped the program:
"That was a huge thing for a number of reasons. Number one, it kept some semblance of momentum in the program. The December that we had, after a dismal November, kept some level of optimism to where we are going. It gave us another chance to bring in a quality recruiting class. When you are in living rooms talking about winning a bowl game and the direction your program is headed, that is terrific. And number two, and not to be lost, is just the experience for kids to get to go on a bowl trip. Especially to a city like Washington D.C., where more than half of our players had never been, and to see all history and great monuments that are a tribute to our country, it was deeper than just a vacation-type trip. And all that is great for the experience of college football."
Sophomore Quarterback Kevin Prince
On personal health and thoughts on summer workouts:
"I'm feeling great right now. This season has been a long time coming for me, so now I'm excited to start to get back on the practice field and prepare. I've been maintaining and improving my shoulder strength throughout spring ball and summer workouts. And now, obviously, the jaw is fine so I'm ready to go."
On pressure of upcoming season:
"I feel like Coach (Norm) Chow has done a good job of putting pressure on me from day one. On the first day of practice during my freshman year, he put me out there with the first string and told me that he expected me to do great things. And when I didn't, he would yell at me and tell me what to do, but then he would throw me right back in there. Now, this is my third season being a part of this team, and my second one playing, so it's the time to be the best that I can to lead this team in the right direction. I know I have the ability to be successful, so now it's all about eliminating mistakes. I'm looking forward in these next couple weeks to keep coming together as a family so we can be the fastest, most efficient group on the field."
On the pistol offense:
"I do enjoy this offense because it gives me the opportunity to improvise a little bit and change plays at the line of scrimmage to give us an extra edge on our side of the ball. I think it gives the running game a better chance to succeed, which is definitely something that is going to be very important to our success this year. We had some problems running the ball last season, but I think this spring was a good showcase for us. Spring ball showed that we can run the ball, and how that can open up the passing game."
On being team captain:
"It changes the game a little bit. I would have had to step up regardless as a second year starter, but it's definitely an honor to be voted into that position by your teammates. It shows the respect that I have of my teammates and that they are looking for me to lead them. I have had multiple talks with the coaches and guys on the team, and everyone has made it clear that they're counting on me. So now I can be a little more vocal than I was last year, both on and off the field. Compared to my season last year as a redshirt freshman, now I have a right to step in and say whatever I need to say to my teammates to get them on the right track."
Junior Free Safety Rahim Moore
On the offense:
"I think the offense has done a great job this offseason. The way that they were competing during the spring definitely showed that they have improved a lot. The way they run their routes, their strength, their courage and the way they approach practice are all signs that they have been working very hard on their side of the ball to be the best they can be. This year, the offense and defense are going to be equal components of our team and neither is more important than the other. I expect great things from our offense and I think Kevin Prince is going to lead us to the Promised Land. He's a lot smarter than he was last year and he's making better decisions and I think he's getting where he needs to be in order to be a key player for us this season."
On the defense:
"We are doing a great job of preparing for this upcoming season. We are missing a couple key guys from last year like Brian (Price), Reggie (Carter) and [Alterraun) Verner, but I think we have a lot of guys who are stepping up to fill their shoes. Guys like David Carter, Aaron Hester and Nate Chandler are all players who have been working extremely hard this offseason to prove that they can step up and be big players for us during the season. This is the best offseason we've had so far since I've been here, so I'm optimistic that good things are going to come. Everyone has been working their hardest during the spring and summer, so I think we are where we need to be in terms of conditioning and strength."
On personal improvements for this season:
"I have been working extremely hard to improve as much as possible for this upcoming season. I have done a lot of work in the weight room to be in the best physical shape I can, but I have also been putting in tons of time into film work. During my film sessions, I have been studying every part of my game to see where I can improve. For every snap, I look at where I am, how I am moving on the field, where I am making contact, and where I'm tackling. I'm just trying to observe myself as much as possible so I can be in the best position to make every play during the season. But my focus is not only to be the best player that I can be, but also to improve myself in a way that improves the players around me. If I can get everyone else around me better, then that puts me in a better position to succeed. Every day I'm working with different teammates to make sure that no one is being complacent and that everyone is focused on making themselves the best player they can be."