With the expectation being that UCLA will select redshirt freshman Kevin Prince as its starting quarterback, pass protection stands as a top priority for the Bruins.
So there were some hearts sinking at Friday's scrimmage when 322-pound sophomore center Kai Maiava sustained a sprained left ankle on a running play and required assistance to walk from the Spaulding Field turf for medical observation.
"We'll see, we hope we can get him back next week," Coach Rick Neuheisel said after the 80-play session. "He's important, but I think he'll be all right."
Protection breakdowns and the menacing play of junior defensive tackle Brian Price (four sacks and a blocked field goal) affected Prince, but the Encino Crespi High product was also irked at himself for a five-for-19, 55-yard effort that closed with two identical passes intercepted by freshman cornerback Andrew Abbott. Prince also misfired on a few throws into the end zone.
"The last two drives were poor, poor plays by me," Prince said. "I didn't feel comfortable for some reason. A lot of it was on me."
While Neuheisel said he was not close to handing Prince the job even if he had played superbly Friday -- "It's still way early, we're going to let it play out," the coach said -- Prince didn't sugar-coat his touchdown-less performance.
"After what I did today, I wouldn't expect anyone to hand me the job," Prince said. "I've got to use the three practices before the spring game (7 p.m. April 25 at the Rose Bowl) to get more comfortable. I've been making some stupid mistakes out there."
Said Neuheisel: "I wish [Prince] hit every pass, but then I'd probably be worried about my defense."
Price has all the makings of a defensive captain, forcing his way to the four sacks, a forced fumble and an impressive, emotional block of kicker Kai Forbath's field-goal try.
Entrenched to start for a third year, the 295-pound Price pumped his fist after blocking the kick and shouted to excite a crowd of fans and recruits -- and his teammates.
"I've spent time conditioning, and Coach has told me to be a more vocal leader," Price said. "Guys see you make plays like that, they want to do the same thing."
The Bruins' running game enjoyed the best offensive moments, as redshirt freshman Milton Knox ran for 48 yards and a touchdown in eight carries, Aundre Dean set up his own short touchdown run with a bruising burst up the middle and Derrick Coleman gained 29 yards in seven carries.
Last year's quarterback starter, Kevin Craft, brought back bad memories of his 20-interception showing last season by having his first scrimmage pass picked off by Sean Westgate, prompting one UCLA fan to crack, "It's deja vu all over again."
Against the third-team defense, former quarterback Chris Forcier made an impressive juke on a nine-yard touchdown reception from Craft as he experiments as a receiver.