- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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SAN BERNARDINO -- UCLA’s offensive line situation went from bad to worse as the Bruins were down to eight active linemen Thursday during training camp at Cal State San Bernardino.
Heat-related illness, concussions and some nicks and dings have taken a toll with Will Oliver and Alexandru Cheachir the latest victims. Both became woozy during the break between practices on the first day of two-a-days, and did not come out for the afternoon session.
It made for some interesting rotations for offensive line coach Adrian Klemm as the line did not even have a two-deep for substitutions as every offensive player with a number in the 70s was sidelined.
“It’s like a puzzle,” coach Jim Mora said. “Coach Klemm is back there and he’s moving guys in and out. Hopefully this is the last day we have to do it because it’s not fun. It’s tough on those guys and it’s not an ideal situation. You kind if hope the worst of it is over. Hopefully we can get some of those guys back.”
Greg Capella, who sat out the latter part of practice Wednesday because of a calf injury, was back Thursday and Mora said some of the players out because of heat-related illness could return Saturday after UCLA takes a day off on Friday. Brett Downey did some light work Thursday morning but did not practice in the afternoon.
One player probably not coming back soon is Jeff Baca, the senior who is slated to start either at right guard or right tackle. What was at first thought to be heat illness is now being treated as a concussion and Baca will go back to UCLA on Friday for further tests.
Alberto Cid will join Baca in Westwood for those tests. Cid, competing for a starting guard spot, suffered a head injury Wednesday and did not practice Thursday. Mora said the team is simply not taking any unnecessary risks with concussions or heat-related illness.
“The things that I don’t think you should ever mess with at any level of football is head injuries and heat illness,” Mora said. “Those things can be deadly and you just have to be really, really careful. If it’s close, we’re going to hold them out and get somebody else the work.”
There are fewer and fewer guys available for that work, however. Ben Wysocki, among the linemen still standing at the end of Thursday’s afternoon session, estimated that he was on the field for 90-100 reps. A redshirt freshman, Wysocki entered camp No. 2 on the depth chart at left guard, but has been the right tackle with the first team the last few days.
“I didn’t imagine this at all,” Wysocki said. “The door opened up and I took advantage of it.”
But there is a flip side. Wysocki is getting lots of reps which is every player’s dream, but he’s also not getting many breaks on some of the hottest days UCLA will face this year.
“The heat is up there, but it’s all right as long as I can grab some water,” he said. “I’m fine right now, but it will be nice to get some of those guys back.”
It will be nice for the coaches, too. With inexperienced linemen getting most of the reps, the line is bound to break down and make it difficult to evaluate quarterbacks and running backs. Wysocki, walk-on Michael Padovese, Kody Innes and Jake Brendel are all redshirt freshmen getting a lot of time and true freshmen Conor McDermott and Carl Hulick are also getting plenty of reps.
Mora, however, has found a way to turn that into a positive.
“There’s really so many ways that we’re evaluating the quarterback and part of that is how do you handle the pocket when everything breaks down?” Mora said. “They’re getting some work at that.”