DORRELL THINKS 'IT'S A MATTER OF TIME' UCLA COACH SAYS RECRUITING SHOULD HELP.
On consecutive nights this month, UCLA coach Karl Dorrell sat in the houses of two of the Bruins' top recruiting targets - quarterbacks Matt Tuiasosopo and Erik Ainge - talking about his offensive philosophy. They were two of the most important sales meetings this offseason.
Dorrell acknowledged there are several areas in dire need of recruits. With Matt Moore transferring, the quarterback position heads a list that has the offensive line and defensive line following closely.
But as the Bruins begin preparations for the Silicon Valley Classic on Dec. 30 against Fresno State, Dorrell isn't discouraged about UCLA's future despite the disappointing four-game losing to end the regular season. And he hasn't wavered in the direction he is establishing for his program.
With a season of experience, Dorrell said UCLA's hybrid West Coast offense - which ranked near the bottom among NCAA Division I-A schools all season - can succeed at the college level. He also said a key part of that analysis is the expected improvement of starting quarterback Drew Olson.
``I have no doubt in my mind that can happen,'' Dorrell said of his offense being successful. ``I think it's a matter of time. We put in a year's time going through it. I think our players ... it's like they had to learn a totally different language. Now that they've been a year into this language, they have a comfort level with it now, so I think the physical side of it will start to take over now, more than the mental side of it.''
Olson, a sophomore, went 5-3 as a starter and completed 162 of 294 passes for 1,971 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. He admitted he sometimes held the ball too long and other times didn't leave the pocket soon enough, or remained in it too long and made poor reads because of changing and blitzing defenses.
It contributed to an unimpressive 116.1 quarterback ranking, which was 74th in the nation, and to an offense that ranked 109th out of 117 Division I-A teams in total yardage at 305.8 yards a game.
But as painful and frustrating as the offense was to watch at times during the season, Dorrell is excited about Olson's future and how it translates into next season.
``(Olson) should be night-and-day different,'' Dorrell said. ``He really should be, and he senses that right now. He senses a certain element to himself where he sees he can be so much better. If we can build on him having a good bowl game, I think he'll take that into the offseason and spring ball and be well ahead of where he was in the fall.
``He's still learning about playing the position, understanding when he has a blitz situation and where to go with the football, understanding different reads given by the coverages you get. He's going through that right now. He's going to be light years ahead of where he's been.''
But UCLA's offseason focus is on more than just an improving quarterback. There are other areas that need help, and Dorrell pointed to two games - a 35-point loss at Oklahoma and a 21-point thumping by USC - as evidence.
``I thought in those particular games, we really need to do a good job in the offseason at improving our team speed and recruiting more team speed. I see that as an issue,'' he said.
Team strength and speed will be a big part of the offseason workout program under strength and conditioning coach Doc Kreis. Dorrell is quick to point out Kreis wasn't hired at UCLA until June, and this will be the first full year of workout programs.
But the biggest issue is recruiting. Dorrell wants to sign at least six offensive linemen - six have given verbal commitments, including Santa Ana College's Marc Villafuerte, who will enroll in January; at least five defensive linemen (two verbally committed); a few linebackers (two committed) and receivers (one committed); some defensive backs (three committed); and at least two quarterbacks.
UCLA is expected to dip into the junior college system to get one quarterback - Santa Monica College's David Koral is a strong possibility - so he can go through spring practice and learn the system. But if the Bruins can land either Ainge, Tuiasosopo or St. Bernard High of Playa del Rey product Rocky Hinds, it would be the highlight of the recruiting class.
Moore's decision to transfer could factor in their decisions.
``I heard about it a couple of days ago and it's something to think about,'' said Tuiasosopo, who is from Woodinville (Wash.) High. ``Playing early is not really a factor. I want to go to a place that will use my skills and get me moving. I'm not really a drop-back passer.''
Tuiasosopo said UCLA, Washington and USC are his final three choices, but the Bruins and Huskies are recruiting him the hardest.
Ainge, who plays at Glencoe High in Hillsboro, Ore., continues to favor Tennessee, although his family wants him at UCLA.
``I probably say (Tennessee) is still the leader,'' Ainge said. ``I think that's probably where I'll end up. I think I'll still keep weighing my options.''
Brian Dohn, (818) 713-3607
Quarterback Drew Olson is expected to be part of a better UCLA offense next season, when he will be a year wiser.
John Lazar/Staff Photographer