Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Spring Practice: Fill in the Price
By Blair Angulo
In the trenches, the strongest players on the football field collide. The battle is often referred to as a war between interior linemen, a fight for position between an invader and a protector, a duel for territory.
This spring, UCLA is without Brian Price, the most destructive tank in the Pac-10 Conference last season and a projected first-round selection in the NFL Draft later this month. Price's early departure left a gaping hole on the defensive line -- one that promises to be up for grabs until the last day of Fall Camp.
Michael Chen/Daily Bruin
Brian Price (92) left a gaping hole on the UCLA defensive line when he declared for the NFL Draft.
"Everybody is trying to get there right now," said David Carter, a senior defensive tackle who is a leading candidate after seeing action in all 13 games last season. "The big guys are the leaders. We have to be that strong point, that spot that everybody can look to and depend on."
Carter is the most experienced of the bunch, recording nine tackles and two sacks in a backup role last season. Coach Rick Neuheisel also likes what he has seen from redshirt junior Nate Chandler -- who came in as a tight end, switched to offensive tackle and moved back to tight end before volunteering to make yet another switch.
Three position changes in as many years? Moving to the defensive side of the ball? Chandler has taken it all in stride.
"As we kept working out, I kept maturing and kept getting bigger," Chandler said. "I thought the position switch would help the team out."
The unselfish decision has unraveled rather smoothly, so much so that it took all of two weeks for Chandler to earn the nickname "Nasty" from fellow defensive linemen. That must be a record or something.
"He doesn't have mercy on anybody," Carter said referring to Chandler. "Nate is strong and aggressive, he's a monster, he's just nasty in there. It's not hard for him because he's already a beast."
Chandler admits that the switch has not been as hard as he anticipated it to be. Gaining 30 lbs. to become an offensive lineman was hard. Moving back to tight end and being thrown into the rotation while weighing 280 lbs. was hard. As a defensive player, Chandler no longer has to learn about certain coverages. The playbook is much thinner.
Chandler still has things to improve on, such as using his hands and staying low in his three-point stance. But he believes the skills will come with time and more repetitions. For now, it's just buckle down and go.
"I feel like I'm learning something new every day," Chandler said. "I'm not saying the D-line is easy because the physicality took some getting used to."
That's where Carter comes in.
"It's my senior year and my last spring, so I feel like I have to progress more than I ever progressed before," Carter said. "No matter how the spring goes, I'm a leader. I have to be, I have to go above and beyond what I've done before."
Replacing Price's conference-leading 23.5 tackles for a loss and team-leading seven sacks might be impossible, but Carter sees the void Price left in a positive way.
"Right now all positions are open," Carter said. "You have to fight."
An interesting scrum is brewing in the trenches.