UCLA's Andrew Abbott celebrates after intercepting a pass against… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
The UCLA Bruins were thin at the two safety positions when Coach Jim Mora was hired, and got thinner when Dietrich Riley was lost for the season after neck surgery and Alex Mascarenas was forced to take a medical retirement.
But after nearly two weeks of camp, the Bruins appear to be in better shape. All it took was a little tinkering with the roster.
Andrew Abbott, a cornerback the last three seasons, was moved to safety in spring. Anthony Jefferson shifted over from cornerback last week.
The move from cornerback to safety is like “standing in the sand at the beach and all of a sudden you’re in the middle of the ocean,” defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin said after Wednesday morning’s practice.
Abbott and Jefferson give the Bruins more game experience. They joined returning safeties Dalton Hilliard, who had moved to running back in spring and then was moved back, and Tevin McDonald.
With Abbott, Hilliard and McDonald in place, “We had three guys where the talent level didn’t drop off,” Hilliard said. Adding Jefferson has strengthened that.
“He was a heavy [hitter] in our tackling drills,” Martin said. “We wanted to see what he would be like playing a little deeper and could get a head of steam.”
Jefferson struggled through injuries -- a broken foot in 2010 and back surgery last season. He relished the chance “to get on the field quicker.”
Having two former cornerbacks at safety is a plus, Martin said.
“It puts us in a prime position to have a guy who can slide down and cover those fast and shifty slot recovers,” Martin said. “We won’t have to go to nickel. When you face those fast-paced offenses, sometimes you might not have time to send in a guy. We can be sound and survive.”
Other notes from Wednesday morning:
-- The Bruins needed a do-over at the start of practice. Mora, unhappy with the energy, made the team go through the walk-through and stretching exercises again.
“I talked to a couple of seniors after practice, because that’s not something coach should have to do,” Hilliard said. “As seniors, we should take it upon ourselves to say, ‘Hey guys, let’s focus up.’ We've got take that a little more seriously.”
The Bruins, who were coming off a night of bowling at a team bonding event Tuesday, picked up the pace the second time around.
-- Running back Malcolm Jones had his most noteworthy practice, with two impressive runs, one in which he gave a little hip shimmy to dodge a would-be tackler.
-- Y-back Steven Manfro displayed his speed, taking a swing pass and bolting up the sideline for a 30-yard touchdown.
-- Kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn made three of four field goal attempts at the end of practice.
-- Guard Alexandru Ceachir (heat-related issues) returned to practice. Tackle Simon Goines (heat-related issues) could return for this evening’s practice, which begins at 5:30.