Doubt UCLA's O-line? 'Watch us' says center Reed

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- It passed through my head that perhaps I should ask UCLA center Micah Reed whether he'd seen "The Dark Knight," or what he thought of Michael Phelps at the Olympics or whether he'd noticed that it was another beautiful day in Southern California.

His look of resignation -- I'm UCLA's center, therefore I know why I'm standing here -- made me want to ask anything other than the obvious, which amounts to "Hey, Micah, word is you guys on the line aren't very good. Care to comment?"

"It gets old," Reed said. "I've heard it about 100 times. Pretty much every reporter has asked me about it."

Fact is, after watching a scrimmage and a practice and talking to harrumphing reporters who cover the team -- let's call them "The Sunshine Band" -- it became difficult to spin this one positively.

The Bruins O-line looks like a crew that's going to struggle this year.

First, understand that UCLA lost four starters from a line that wasn't too stout a year ago. The Bruins averaged 3.7 yards per rush and surrendered 36 sacks while ranking ninth in the conference in scoring (22.4 points per game). Sure, there were big issues at quarterback, but just about every game film included defenders running free (other than the blowout win over Washington).

At the beginning of spring practices, the Bruins' top three tackles were Aleksey Lanis, Micah Kia and Sean Sheller.

Lanis retired due to recurrent injuries. Sheller suffered a season-ending knee injury in a summer ATV accident. And Kia, who started eight games last year, broke his hand this week.

If Kia is unable to play against Tennessee on Sept. 1, then Reed, a senior, will be the only starting lineman who saw any action in 2007. The starting tackles would be sophomore Brandon Bennett and redshirt freshman Nate Chandler, who converted from tight end at the beginning of preseason practices and is listed at 271 pounds.

Coach Rick Neuheisel told reporters this week that he was "past overly concerned."

Reed isn't buying it or buckling.

"We're working hard," he said. "We've got some guys stepping up. I think we're coming together pretty well. It's just mental mistakes. We've got inexperienced guys, guys who've moved from tight end, guys who've moved from the D-line. There's a couple of guys who've just got to rep it out, get repetitions, and they'll figure it out. Hopefully we'll get it together in the next couple of weeks."

That's not exactly what Neuheisel said.

"I think we know what we're doing -- there weren't a lot of mental busts," Neuheisel said. "It's just now being able to carry out the assignment. That's the challenge."

When Neuheisel added that effort wasn't a problem either, it left only one explanation: The linemen aren't able to physically block the guy in front of them.

Reed countered that the guys they're trying to block are pretty tough, particularly tackles Brian Price and Brigham Harwell.

"It's a great thing for the interior three," Reed said. "They're two of the best defensive linemen in the nation so that's just going to make us better. If we can block these guys, we can block anyone."

Reed is admirably defiant about the line. He knows they're doubted. He knows many Bruins fans believe the line is the team's Achilles' heel.

What does he say to them?

"Just watch us on Monday night against Tennessee on Sept. 1," he said. "That's it. Be looking out for us."