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It's no snap, but Dean is starting

October 04, 2008|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

UCLA's Jake Dean has become the center of attention.

Dean was a great unknown as the Bruins' backup center. So when Micah Reed suffered an injury to his right knee against Brigham Young, there was concern.

"I didn't really know what to expect," UCLA offensive line coach Bob Palcic said. "I think he has done a decent job. I'm very pleased. Now, does he have a long way to go? Yes, he does."

Dean, a sophomore, was among six offensive linemen in UCLA's 2006 recruiting class, and he became lost in the shuffle of coaches and players. He spent the last two seasons playing musical positions.

"I was a center, then a tackle, then a guard, then a tackle, then a guard," Dean said. "Then we had a bunch of injuries on the defensive line last season and they asked me if I wanted to try defensive tackle. I said, 'To heck with it, let's try it.' I ended up on the scout team defense.

"I would go home and say to my dad, 'I don't think I'm ever going to play. Should I transfer?' He said to stay there and keep working."

Dean's career path took a better direction in spring. For starters, Palcic arrived with an impressive coaching resume and no-nonsense approach. Dean was listed third on the depth chart at right guard. The Bruins seemed set with Reed at center, but finding a backup was a problem.

Scott Glicksberg and Andy Keane tried. Adam Heater was moved from tight end and given a look.

"There were a whole bunch of fumbled snaps," Dean said. "I went to Coach Palcic and said, 'Hey, I'm a center. That's where I've played. I won't fumble any snaps.' He gave me a shot, and it's been fun ever since."

Well, not entirely fun. The Bruins' offensive line struggled at the start of the season, which heightened the concern when Reed, UCLA's best lineman, was injured. But Palcic had learned more about Dean and liked what he was seeing.

"He pays attention in meetings and talks seriously about the game," Palcic said. "That carries onto the field. It allows him to manage the game in terms of making blocking adjustments and pass-protection adjustments."

Palcic has seen breakthroughs before. During his first tour with the Bruins in 1993, center James Christensen suffered a knee injury.

"I put Mike Flanagan in there and never looked back through three years as a starter and 12 years in the NFL," Palcic said. "Jake still has work to do to improve. But I like what I've seen."

Dean stayed in the lineup against Fresno State last week even though Reed was healthy enough to play. Reed, a senior, alternated at both guard spots before injuring his left knee.

Dean still has a road ahead of him. Kai Maiava, a transfer from Colorado, will be eligible next season and is considered a strong center. Dean doesn't plan on budging.

"It is such a different mind-set for me this year," Dean said. "Last year, I'd come to practice and wonder, 'What position am I going to play today?' Now I'm the guy."

Injury update

Washington State has been devastated by injuries. The Cougars will be without quarterbacks Gary Rodgers (neck) and Kevin Lopina (back), linebacker Jason Stripling (shoulder) and defensive end Jessy Sanchez (shoulder).

Linebacker Cory Evans (hamstring), wide receiver Daniel Blackledge (shoulder), offensive lineman Steven Ayers (shoulder), running backs Chris Ivory (hamstring) and Logwone Mitz (ankle) and offensive tackle Will Hunter (broken finger) are listed as questionable.

UCLA will be without Reed, linebacker Kyle Bosworth (knee) and wide receiver Marcus Everett (dislocated toe).


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