(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)
By Chris Foster
UCLA tackle Micah Kia is optimistic about the Bruins' offensive line.
"We finally have … we finally have … that X-factor," he said.
Just what that is, well....
"I can't tell you because I don't know what it is," Kia said. "But we got it."
Maybe that intangible is simple belief.
Even though the Bruins must reshape the line for a third consecutive summer, there is a feeling it's not spit and bailing wire that will hold things together.
"We're miles ahead of where we were when we first got here," third-year offensive line coach Bob Palcic said.
A surprising comment, considering the Bruins lost nearly all the offensive linemen in their 2009 recruiting class.
Tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo, who started 13 games as a freshman, left on a two-year Mormon mission. Tackle Nik Abele was forced to retire because of chronic neck problems. Guard Stanley Hasiak's year of upheaval left him academically ineligible this season.
"That hurt," Palcic said about losing those freshmen.
So why is Palcic smiling?
"We have experience," he said.
They have questions as well. The ones about health have been answered.
Injuries to guards Eddie Williams (fractured ankle) and Ryan Taylor (sprained foot) — both community college transfers a year ago — have healed. Tackle Sean Sheller is fully recovered from knee and ankle injuries suffered in an ATV accident before the 2008 season. All are seniors, as is Kia, who lost last season to a knee injury.
"We put some big numbers in the weight room this summer," Kia said. "We don't have the starry-eyed, wet-behind-the-ear kids anymore."
Basically, Williams said, "We're more in sync. We trust one another more. There's a good bond."
The only non-senior working with the first team Friday was junior center Kai Maiava, who has worked himself back into good academic standing after being ineligible for the EagleBank Bowl.
"We have made real positive strides," Palcic said. "Eddie and Ryan have been in the program a year now. Micah and Sean Sheller have done a nice job."
There is new blood as well, including freshman tackle Chris Ward, "who may be a contributor," Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "He's a smart young guy who has a great anchor. When they're freshmen, you worry whether they can anchor when they are getting bull-rushed. He's been able to do that."
Hasiak to return
Hasiak, who struggled through a volatile freshman year and is academically ineligible for this season, will rejoin the team in September. Though on scholarship, he was not invited to training camp.
"Stanley is learning responsibility," Neuheisel said. "As he learns it, he will flourish in our program. I hope he understands what a great gift that is."
Quarterback Kevin Prince (back muscle), tight end Joseph Fauria (groin), running back Jordon James (hamstring), linebacker Patrick Larimore (hamstring), linebacker Aramide Olaniyan (ankle) and wide receiver Josh Smith (groin) all sat out practice.
None are expected to participate in the mini-scrimmage Saturday, but Neuheisel said all would be available in the next few days.
Said Neuheisel: "Trainers are like moms, 'I'm not sure he's ready to go out and play.' Coaches are like that P.E. coach with the flattop that we all had, 'Get out here, he's ready.' It's always going to be a struggle, but I trust those guys. The bottom line is they have to be ready to play three weeks from now."