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UCLA FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: EXPERIENCE LACKING AT CB.

Byline: BRIAN DOHN Staff Writer

Juniors Trey Brown and Rodney Van occupy UCLA's starting cornerback positions. Behind them, though, the Bruins do not have a cornerback with college experience.

Van is backed by Alterraun Verner, a talented freshman who will not turn 18 until December 13. Brown is backed up by converted receiver Matt Slater.

And then there is this: Utah, which is UCLA's opponent in Saturday's opener at the Rose Bowl, operates a spread option offense in which it regularly employs a four-receiver formation.

So Verner, who is also UCLA's nickel back, will be seeing plenty of action, be it in place of Van or Brown, or when the Bruins use five defensive backs.

``When I was a senior in high school, if I had a freshman cornerback, I'd start laughing and tell the quarterback to throw me the ball,'' Verner said. ``I already know they're probably going to game-plan for me, try to test me out early, see if I'm ready. I think I'll prove to them I'll be ready, and I'm looking forward to the challenge.''

Verner added he was combating his pregame jitters with heavy preparation.

``I have been thinking a lot about it,'' Verner said. ``I've been spending time in the film room. I've been asking questions, looking at my assignments, looking at everything, trying to have it all stuck in my head so I won't think that much.''

More secondary issues: UCLA's cornerback situation is hairy, but so is the safety position. The Bruins will be without junior cornerback Michael Norris (knee) and sophomore safety Robert Kibble (multiple sclerosis), and the weather may not help a depth-depleted unit.

Forecasts of a high of 95 degrees in Pasadena could make for a sweltering field for the 4 p.m. kickoff, and take a toll on shorthanded secondary. Sophomore strong safety Bret Lockett is the only backup to have played in the defensive backfield, and that was in a mop-up role.

``Man, we're very thin in the secondary right now,'' Van said. ``But we don't think about it too much because (defensive coordinator DeWayne) Walker gave us the mentality of right now, that's all we have, so we have to play with it. We can't look at the sidelines for a sub because there won't be one there.''

Whittington's ascent: One of the biggest surprises of training camp was the play of junior strong-side linebacker Aaron Whittington, who will keep his starting job when John Hale returns from his one-game suspension next week against Rice.

Whittington said an offseason discussion with the coaching staff was the difference.

``They told me I needed to gain weight, and to learn to bend better,'' said the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Whittington, who added 10 pounds to his frame. ``Usually, I have a little trouble bending because I'm lankier, but they really wanted me to stress staying low, keeping a low pad level. I really just stretched, and did a lot of the drills, and it's helped me.''

Whittington added he increased his film watching as well.

Also: Chris Markey was named to the Doak Walker Award watch list as the nation's top running back. ... Tight end J.J. Hair (foot) will be available and tight end Logan Paulsen will start Saturday, Bruins coach Karl Dorrell said.

brian.dohn@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3607

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 1, 2006
Words:556
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