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It's Harris' time to get in line

October 23, 2008|Chris Foster | Foster is a Times staff writer.

It has reached the point where UCLA offensive line coach Bob Palcic could put a take-a-number dispenser next to his office. Sooner or later, everyone gets served.

Mike Harris' number is up this week, as the Bruins' offensive line will shift again, with Harris probably the starter at right tackle.

His chance came partly through injury, partly through hard work. Jeff Baca, the Bruins' starting left tackle, suffered a strained hamstring Tuesday. Baca will be out at least two weeks.

Micah Kia, who started at right tackle Saturday, will move into Baca's spot. But even before the injury, Palcic intended to give Harris a look. Harris had been second on the depth chart before suffering a high-ankle sprain in training camp.

"It's been a long time waiting; I'm excited," Harris said. "I came into camp hoping to compete for the job. Then I went down with the ankle and it took me a while to get back to where I could compete. I showed coach on Tuesday that I can do it."

Palcic will make the final decision later this week but was leaning toward Harris.

It would be the first collegiate start of his career. It will also be the Bruins' fourth starting offensive line in eight games this season, the result of injuries and inconsistency.

UCLA has given up 21 sacks, an average of three per game, which ties it at No. 112 out of 119 Division I teams. The Bruins gave up seven sacks against Stanford last week.

"I can pass-block well, and sacks have been a problem," Harris said. "I can definitely help there."

Harris went to Palcic three weeks ago and asked for more time in practice.

"I needed more reps; that was all I was missing," Harris said. "I asked for some work to get back in the game. Now I'm ready to play."

The rundown

UCLA, which has struggled to stop the run this season, this week will face its greatest test so far . . . maybe.

The Bruins will need to find a way to corral California running back Jahvid Best, one of the top backs in the Pacific 10 Conference, on Saturday.

However, Best's status remains clouded heading into the game. He dislocated an elbow during a Sept. 27 game against Colorado State and was pulled after three quarters against Arizona on Saturday.

Said Best: "I think I'm definitely going to play. I think it's definitely for sure that I'm going to play."

Best's backup, Shane Vereen, can also create problems.

"We can't let them out of the cage," UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said. "They get out and they're gone. This is different than any backs we've seen. These are speed guys. They can hit it and get it.

"They are going to try to catch us in space and we have to keep them as confined as possible. If we let them out, we could have some problems."

UCLA is giving up 182 yards rushing per game, ranking the Bruins 97th out of 119 Division I teams. Oregon rushed for 323 and Stanford for 250 in the last two games.

Odds and split ends

Wide receiver Ryan Graves returned to practice a day after sitting out because of a tender hamstring.

UCLA received commitments from Pomona Diamond Ranch cornerback Brandon Sermons and Fontana Bloomington fullback Jayson Allmond.

Ed Kezirian, former UCLA assistant coach and academic coordinator, addressed the Bruins after practice to emphasize the rivalry with California.


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