O-line questions linger with season looming

August, 21, 2012
8/21/12
10:29
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The clock is ticking on training camp for UCLA, which held it's final open practice of the fall Tuesday night at Spaulding Field and will go into game-planning mode for Rice on Wednesday.

That means the clock is also ticking on figuring out a starting five on the offensive line -- the biggest remaining unsettled concern the Bruins have before the Aug. 30 season opener.

Projected starters Jeff Baca and Greg Capella have been out for about two weeks because of concussions as has Alberto Cid, a part-time starter last season who was competing to start this year.

Those injuries have forced other players to step in and have forced the coaches to juggle players around, including putting tackles at guard and guards at tackle in an attempt to find a cohesive and effective group. So even with the opening game only eight days away, the Bruins are still far from figuring out who the starting five will be up front.

"Not close yet," coach Jim Mora said. "We’re still mixing and matching. We moved some guys around a little bit and trying to find the best combination. Pretty soon here, which to me here is tomorrow or Thursday a week before our first game, we need to settle in and get that group playing and playing well."

Mora said a lot will depend on the availability of Baca and Capella. Cid, he said, was the furthest away from returning, which sounds as if he won't be available for the Rice game. Mora said Capella could be back as soon as Wednesday after he passed a concussion protocol test Tuesday.

Baca still hasn't progressed to the point where he can take the test, but Mora said Baca is "almost asymptomatic."

"A guy like Jeff, because he is an experienced guy and he’s played all the positions, he could come in with a few days practice as long as he was healthy and he could pick it up well," Mora said.

With Baca, Capella and Cid roaming the sidelines in floppy hats, center Jake Brendel and tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo have been the only constants on the offensive line since camp started. Freshman Simon Goines and redshirt freshman Torian White are being given ample opportunity to win jobs at tackle. Redshirt freshman Ben Wysocki has also gotten a lot of snaps at both guard and tackle and has made progress while Brett Downey continues to work with the No. 1 offense at both guard and tackle.

Those guys don't have a lot of experience, which is why Mora would like to get Baca and Capella back in the mix. They are projected as the two starting guards, but Baca could move to tackle if need be. Still, Mora reiterated his stance about being extra careful when it comes to head injuries.

"Some injuries, you encourage and you push guys to get back on the field, you just do," Mora said. "With head injuries and neck and spinal injuries, the heat like we had out there, I think even when you think it’s time, you wait a little bit longer.

"These kids have a life to live when they are done with football. We want them healthy and happy. Of course we want to win football games but that always has to be secondary to the health of our players so we’re going to be very careful with those things."

Notes: The team will practice Wednesday at 2:45 but that session and all future practices are closed to the public. ... Linebacker Keenan Graham missed practice because of an illness. He is the third player this week to miss practice because of flu-like symptoms, joining Aaron Hester and Brandon Sermons.

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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