UCLA came into fall camp with a big question mark at offensive line and the player juggling in recent days indicates that the coaching staff is still searching for answers.
Chris Ward, expected to be a starter at guard, was moved to the second team Tuesday with Albert Cid taking his spot. Wednesday, Cid, Ward and Greg Capella all took first team reps at the guard positions. It's all in an effort to shore up the shoddy pass protection from last season, a huge part of why UCLA finished the season ranked No. 116 in the nation in passing.
"A year ago, we were woeful in pass protection and it trickled down into the passing game and the end result was something I’ve never been a part of and I’m not going to be a part of it again if I can do anything about it," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "So we had to devote some time to pass protection. As we were trying to learn the new offense a year ago obviously we let that part of the game drift away and we can’t afford to do that."
Tackles Sean Sheller and Mike Harris are the only two returning starters from last season's offensive line and center Kai Maiava was a starter two years ago before a broken ankle forced him to the sidelines last season. That leaves the guard positions as the question marks for this year.
Ward got limited playing time last season and seemed to be a favorite for one of the spots, especially considering Capella is playing guard for the first time this season after spending last season as a center. Cid, a transfer from Citrus College, began practicing with UCLA only eight days ago.
"All three of them have shown flashes of being really good, all three have been inconsistent," Neuheisel said. "With Alberto it’s clear to understand, with Capella we just moved him to guard at the beginning of camp so it’s easy to understand.
"With Chris we just have to keep his feet moving. Chris is a very talented, good player, but right now he’s playing on one leg too often and he loses his power. A guy with that size needs to play with power."
Jeff Baca, considered the top offensive lineman on the team, is out for at least the first month of the season with a broken ankle, but when he returns there figures to be one fewer offensive line spot to go around. And that's just fine with Neuheisel.
"It creates competition," he said. "And that makes everybody play harder and makes everybody better."