UCLA redshirt freshman Akeem Ayers has the potential to be a force at outside linebacker, but if the Bruins had to play a game this weekend, Ayers wouldn't be a starter.
That's because senior John Hale has been solid over the first two weeks of training camp and is not ready to give up the starting job.
"The one thing that he brings to our defense is that he knows what he's doing," UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. "We play an assignment-type defense where we try and stay disciplined. It might not be right to throw Ayers in there right now. He's still a kid and he has to catch up a little bit.
"Ayers needs to learn the other intangibles that are important to our defense and right now, John gives us that."
Hale, a former standout at Los Alamitos High, has experienced the full spectrum of ups and downs playing for the Bruins in his career.
In his first season, Hale started seven games and was named to the Sporting News All-Pacific 10 Freshman team in 2005.
But as a sophomore, Hale split time with Aaron Whittington and then last season, his playing time dropped because of inconsistency and an injured hamstring.
But Hale has been getting it done so far this year.
"The term 'competition' really helps," said Hale, who has played both inside and outside linebacker at UCLA. "It makes you improve your game every day. . . . Competition is something that helps everyone's game. From the starter to the guy who is second team to the guys who are third and fourth. Everything is geared to help the team."
The battle between Hale and Ayers has been noticed by Coach Rick Neuheisel.
"Position battles are usually enhancers to your team because you are going to need everybody," Neuheisel said. "When people are fighting to see who is first string, they usually come out ready to play and you'll find out how competitive they really are. I think it helps us . . .
"I just know that they are both flying around and that's great for our football team."
Hale, who played his first season under defensive coordinator Larry Kerr, said he's glad that Walker and linebacker coach Chuck Bullough returned this season after Karl Dorrell was fired and replaced by Neuheisel.
"It's always good when you don't have to learn a new system," Hale said. "You feel more advanced because you've been in the system for three years now. In a way, you feel like a coach on the field. It was a huge plus to keep our defensive coaches."
Quarterback Kevin Craft continued to work exclusively with the first team Thursday and Neuheisel said he's starting to notice some things with UCLA's offense under coordinator Norm Chow.
"It's beginning to take shape," Neuheisel said. "It's almost like sitting there watching someone create art. You kind of now know what he's building. But it still has a lot of polish still to go."
Tailback Kahlil Bell missed the morning practice because of a hip flexor injury but participated in the evening workout.
Quarterback Osaar Rasshan sat out with a sore knee. Linebacker Mike Schmitt left the morning practice with an ankle injury and wide receiver Taylor Embree suffered a shoulder injury and did not make the second workout.
Defensive end Jeff Miller has been moved to tight end.