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Key UCLA football players are recovering from injury as team begins to practice with pads

Quarterback Kevin Prince, offensive tackle Jeff Baca, and tailback and defensive back Damien Thigpen are among the UCLA players recovering from injury. The Bruins practiced with pads for the first time Saturday.

April 02, 2011|By Baxter Holmes
  • UCLA running back/defensive back Damien Thigpen picks up yardage against Houston last fall.
UCLA running back/defensive back Damien Thigpen picks up yardage against… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

UCLA's football players bounded into a circle early Saturday afternoon and soon began shouting, jumping and fist pumping like barbarians.

Inside that circle, a few at a time slammed into each other in a series of loud collisions as the result of the Oklahoma drill, which the Bruins used to mark the first day of spring practice in pads.

But the old-school, mano a mano setup may be something the Bruins should hold off on since the injury bug took more than a nibble out of the team's roster last season.

And so far this spring, which is just three practices old for UCLA, the bug has bitten again.

Offensive tackle Jeff Baca has surgery for broken ankle

Projected starting quarterback Kevin Prince, a junior, is rehabilitating his knee from surgery and isn't likely to practice until at least next week, when he'll do some light work in seven-on-seven drills.

"He won't get into any of the team stuff just because there's too many bodies moving around there," UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said, adding that he doesn't expect Prince to be at full speed until August.

Junior offensive tackle Jeff Baca, an expected starter who was academically ineligible last season, is expected to be out until at least fall camp in August after suffering a broken ankle in a recent practice.

"If we can get him full-speed in September, that would be terrific," Neuheisel said.

Will a UCLA quarterback blossom in the spring?

Neuheisel also said junior tailback and defensive back Damien Thigpen tweaked his hamstring and could miss practice time.

Better this time around

First-year UCLA offensive coordinator Mike Johnson was none too pleased with the team's practice pace a few days ago as it adjusts to his system.

"The other day was just not acceptable," he said. "It was way below the standards and the expectations that we want to accomplish, and I think [Saturday] we responded."

One player whose pace looked speedy was wunderkind freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, who broke off several long runs and completed a few long passes during the team period.

"Sometimes he's tucking it a little early … not going through his progressions," Johnson said, "but we have to allow him to be instinctive."

Hundley said that he's staying up until midnight reading the playbook to improve his on-the-field reads but also that he won't give up on his legs.

"If I see the linebackers dropping and I feel the need to run, I'm taking off," Hundley said.

"The linebackers have to respect that I can throw the ball too, because if they come up, I'm throwing deep."

Hundley added that although Prince being out for now is a negative, it does help that he's earning extra repetitions.

Is it his goal to start?

"It's not my decision," he said, "but I came in to compete."

Etc.

Unlike last season, Neuheisel said he has selected a "team council" of three seniors, three juniors, two sophomores, two freshmen and some other players; they will vote for the team captains. He said the council members will be announced next week.... Former Bruin and current Jacksonville Jaguars tailback Maurice Jones-Drew attended practice along with former Oregon and current Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward. Both are graduates of Concord De La Salle High School.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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