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UCLA REPORT

Dragovic, Blake provide 1-2 punch

August 08, 2007|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

The answers to replacing All-American defensive end Justin Hickman rushed to be interviewed.

Nikola Dragovic and Tom Blake jostled their way into position Tuesday after UCLA's practice before Dragovic demanded one rule.

"Oldest first," he said, and that was that.

That, too, is the pecking order for the Bruins to replace Hickman, the only missing piece from a defense that finished second in the Pacific 10 Conference last season.

Dragovic, 22, tops the depth chart, having regained a starting spot that was his two seasons ago before knee injury required surgery. He returned last season in a backup role similar to what Blake, a 21-year old walk-on, is expected to fill this season.

"If we have 75 plays, I expect Nick will have 50 and Tom 25," defensive line coach Todd Howard said. "Nick is stronger and brings a little bit of attitude. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. Tom is very good pass rusher, better than I thought. Together, I think they can hold down that side."

Both have something to prove.

Dragovic, a 6-foot-4, 262-pound senior, languished last season, waiting his turn again. He played in all 13 games but grew antsy on the sidelines.

"It was tough mentally, getting 20 reps after being a starter," Dragovic said. "I think that helped get me focused more for this season.

"I'm a real self-starter, I don't really need coaches or guys backing me up to push me. I come out here and push myself for the team."

Blake, meanwhile, is close to realizing his dreams, having transferred from UC Davis after the 2005 season. He has worked up the Bruins' depth chart and will likely be rewarded with a scholarship.

"It was a little risky leaving Davis before I knew if anyone wanted me," said Blake, a 6-4, 263 junior.

"My approach is to do whatever I can to help the team."

The Bruins top two freshmen recruits were not around by the end of practice.

Running back Raymond Carter left practice after suffering a knee injury during drills. He will be re-evaluated today.

Defensive tackle Brian Price was held out of practice because the NCAA Clearinghouse has requested more information about his high school records.

Price, who attended Crenshaw High, practiced with the team Monday and came out for Tuesday's workouts but was sent off the field. He will be held out of practice until the issue is resolved.

Cornerback Rodney Van sat out practice with what he called, "a mild sprain" in his left foot. Van was injured during kickoff return drills Monday and underwent X-rays that he said were negative. Still, he was fitted with an ankle boot.

"It's just precautionary," Van said.

"It should keep me out a only few days. By the weekend, I'll be back."

Strong safety Chris Horton was limited during practice because of a sore hamstring.

Aleksey Lanis, who started 12 games at offensive tackle last season, is ticketed for a backup role this season. He is expected to play both tackle spots, giving the Bruins depth on the line.

"I'll know all five positions," said Lanis, who missed the Emerald Bowl because of a fractured left ulna and was beat out by Brian Abraham in spring. "Anything that will get me on the field more."

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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