Bradford comes up big…just in time

At this point, UCLA should just tear up the grass on Spaulding Field and plant a plot of four-
leaf clovers.

Maybe have leprechauns return punts. Replace horse-collars with horseshoes.

Once more the Bruins are snake-bitten on the offensive line, projected starting weakside offensive tackle Jeff Baca out with a broken left ankle, projected starting weakside offensive guard Sean Sheller now nursing a broken hand, suffered in the final period of UCLA’s practice last Thursday. In 2010, the Bruins lost Baca to academic ineligibility and starting center Kai Maiava to a broken ankle in fall camp.

“It’s a physical game, and there are a lot of bodies falling around, and it’s a long way to the ground when you’re that big,” Neuheisel said.

With Baca and Sheller down, the Bruins are relying on one sparsely used offensive lineman to get even bigger.

Junior offensive tackle Connor Bradford has been working with the first- and second-team offenses with Baca and Sheller sidelined, rotating with former walk-on tackle Brett Downey, while sophomore guard Stan Hasiak is up with the ones.

Bradford is the littlest-known of the three, and the littlest, to boot.

After shifting positions for three seasons – to tight end and defensive line – Bradford is back in his most natural fit. The musical chairs played with his fitness, and he ended last season still trying to gain weight, weighing in at roughly 250 pounds. Now he registers at 270-275, and his weight gain has given him the confidence to mix it up with those bigger, stronger and more experienced.

Neuheisel wants Bradford, who received a scholarship offer after one of the team’s one-day camps in June of 2007 and has two seasons of eligibility left, to pack on another 15-20 pounds.

“His real only issue is he big enough?” Neuheisel said. “He’s just a little light. This is a big man’s game, and he’s probably 15 pounds away.”

Bradford has definitely noticed the change in his physique, particularly when engaging with defensive linemen, who feasted on him throughout his career.

“I have more structure,” Bradford said. “When I’m taking on a bull-rush or when I’m down-blocking and a guy is on me, I feel like I’m more structurally sound.”