With UCLA already running into depth issues after three days of practice, it’s certainly nice to have Nate Chandler on the roster.
Chandler will be moving from defensive tackle to defensive end to replace Datone Jones, who broke his foot Tuesday in practice and could be out for the season.
Switching positions is nothing new for Chandler, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound junior who has shown positional versatility since his arrival from Mira Mesa High School in San Diego.
UCLA recruited Chandler as a tight end but moved him to the offensive line a year later. Last year, he was back at tight end but played sparingly so he asked to move to defense for this season.
Coaches slated him to start at tackle, but now he’s sliding over a spot.
“I don’t really see it as that big of a deal,” Chandler said. “You need people that can move around and help the team toward the common goal of winning. I’m glad my versatility has come in handy.”
What makes Chandler so versatile is his athleticism, coach Rick Neuheisel said.
“He’s a great athlete in a 300-pound body so you have a chance to do some fun things with him,” Neuheisel said. “I think we’ve got him at the right spot on the defensive front. He’s tenacious, he’s physical. I think he’ll help us there in a big way.”
Chandler says he feels like defensive line is a natural position for him and the reason it took so long to figure it out is because he didn’t start playing football until his sophomore year in high school.
“My body didn’t mature until I got to college,” he said. “And even for the first couple of years, it kept changing.”
Chandler played last year at 270 pounds, but weighed in at 303 on Wednesday, he said. Now that he’s moving to defensive end, which requires a bit more quickness and agility than a hole-clogging defensive tackle, he plans to lose about 15 pounds before the season opener Sept. 4 at Kansas State.
“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” he said. “That’s what the team needs and I think I’ve shown I’m willing to do whatever the team needs.”
The Bruins offensive line has received a lot of bad news early in camp with Mike Harris getting a one-game suspension for violating team rules and Jeff Baca learning that the is academically ineligible, but there is a bit of good news too.
Micah Kia, who started 15 games in 2007 and 2008, is back in action after sitting out last season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Kia, a 6-5, 321-pound senior from Hawaii, says he feels great and is cleared for all activities after having surgery to repair his knee a year ago.
“It feels really good,” Kia said. “It’s never easy being on the sideline watching everybody else doing something you love and being so close to something you love without being able to do it so it’s nice to be on the field now.”
Receiver Josh Smith is another player who missed last season, but after transferring from Colorado and sitting out because of NCAA transfer rules, he's still out.
Smith pulled a groin muscle Monday on the first day of practice and sat out Tuesday and Wednesday. He said he has no timetable for when he can return.
“We haven’t put a date on it yet,” Smith said. “We’re just going to see how I feel each day so because of that it could be tomorrow and it could be the next. We haven’t decided yet.”
Smith, a big-play threat who averaged 13.3 yards per catch and 25.5 yards per kickoff return, said he isn’t getting too antsy just yet, despite having sat out all of last season.
“I try not to worry about it too much,” he said. “My opportunity is going to come and I expect to do well. It’s a little bit of adversity, but I’m learning a lot of patience from sitting out so much. But still, being injured isn’t fun at all and I can’t wait to get out there and add to the weapons that we have out there.”