Spring notes: ‘Real’ spring game hinges on health of UCLA offensive line

— With the UCLA in injury-prevention mode, Monday night practice was fairly light and almost entirely non-contact. The Bruins ran some seven-on-seven drills, but otherwise, there wasn’t much competitive work to start the week.

Head coach Jim Mora said he wasn’t sure yet whether or not he would keep the team out of pads for the rest of the week. Schools around the country have already held their spring games, and many of them seem to have played full-on competitions rather than the mixed-drill event UCLA held a year ago. Mora said last week that he hopes for more “actual football” on Saturday at the StubHub Center, but much of that will depend on the team’s health.

“You always want to put on a good show for your fans,” Mora said. “People come out that support your program, I think it’s important that you put on a good show for them. Our primary objective has to be the health of our football team, and I think everyone would understand that.”

In question right now is the offensive line. Starting right guard Alex Redmond (hand) participated on Monday night, but has already been ruled out for Saturday. He has removed his cast in favor of a brace, but coaches don’t want him to risk further injury or to develop bad habits trying to protect that hand. That leaves them with nine healthy linemen; if rising redshirt sophomore John Lopez (virus) is ready, they will have a full two-deep.

— Graduate transfer Malcolm Bunche started out as the team’s left guard for much of this spring, but has since moved outside to right tackle — with rising redshirt freshman moving down to second-string. Mora said Bunche looks more natural as a guard, but has played tackle out of necessity.

“He’s really powerful and deliberate in what he does,” center Jake Brendel said of Bunche.

That in turn has helped give the Bruins an aggressive attitude. Projected starting tackle Simon Goines (leg) will hopefully be ready by fall camp in San Bernardino, which would allow Bunche to move back inside.

“I think our offensive line has a violence to them that you appreciate when you watch them,” Mora said.

— Asked if he regretted any part of using star linebacker Myles Jack on offense last season, Jim Mora pointed out the Bruins’ 38-33 loss to Arizona State in November.

With Jack starting at running back and didn’t take a single rep on defense. Without him, the Bruins surrendered 448 yards — the second-highest output they allowed all season.

“I think that was a poor decision on my part,” Mora said. “I wish I had that one back.”

This year, he doesn’t plan on giving Jack any offensive snaps until at least the start of the season, when the Bruins will start installing specific packages. That, in turn, will give the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year a chance to grasp the defensive schemes even further.

“I think last year at times, he was just playing football,” Mora said. “He was just letting his instincts take over for him. I think now he really understands how he’s supposed to fit, where he’s supposed to drop, what’s happening on the other side of the ball and how that affects him. To me, he’s a more settled player right now.”

— Mora praised new outside linebackers/special teams coach Mike Tuiasosopo, but admitted that he is still “feeling his way” through the latter part of that title. Running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu has had a significant hand in special teams coaching through spring.

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  • Moises Rosiles

    Jack, how do you determine if a player is rising or not? Is it based on your own observations, a noticeable increase in practice time, or something you’ve heard the coaches say about a particular player?

    • Jack Wang

      Mixture of all three, though it usually starts with personal observation. That would in turn prompt questions about said player for his coaches/teammates. You’d also see in practice whether someone takes first- or second-team reps.