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Offensive Line Takes Shape, but One Spot Still Uncertain

Times Staff Writer

UCLA’s starting offensive line is almost set for the Bruins’ season opener at San Diego State on Sept. 3.

Senior Mike McCloskey is at center with sophomores Shannon Tevaga and Brian Abraham holding down the strongside guard and tackle positions. Senior Ed Blanton starts at weakside tackle but next to him, the spot is still open, according to offensive coordinator Tom Cable.

“The bottom line is that you try and get your five best guys together, then put them in the right spots,” Cable said. “Right now, the only position left in question in my mind is weak guard.

“We have three guys who could play there. There’s [senior] Bob Cleary, who has played a little bit. He’s tough, tenacious and gives you everything he’s got on every play.

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“Then there’s Robert Chai, who is having one heck of a camp and is really coming on, and Chris Joseph, who is coming off knee surgery, but he’s also having a strong camp.”

In training camp last year, Cleary won the weakside guard position and started the first seven games. But before UCLA’s 48-42 loss at Arizona State on Oct. 23, Cleary was replaced by Tevaga and his playing time disappeared for the rest of the season. Cleary did not play a down in the Bruins’ last two games.

“Last season is last season and I’m not worried about that now,” said Cleary, a former three-sport standout at Lake Elsinore Temescal Canyon High. “I wasn’t expected to start at all last year, but I did, so I take that as a blessing and try to use it as a good experience for this year.”

Throughout camp, Cleary has worked mainly with the first team, splitting time with Chai. At times, Cleary has been a dominant player, crunching defenders with his 6-foot-7, 316-pound body. But other times, he has failed to get the job done, which has left the door open for others.

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“Bob has to maintain a higher level of consistency or one of those other two guys may very well sneak in there to take his job,” Cable said. “But it’s a good problem. I have one spot really that needs attention and I have three good players to fix it.”

Cleary says he understands what’s needed to make the starting job his for the season.

“After not playing for a few seasons, since high school really, I wasn’t used to the grind of the season last year,” he said. “Going through practices and games is a whole different thing. With the experience having gone through a season where I started seven games, it can do nothing but help me this season.”

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Although Coach Karl Dorrell said after Wednesday’s afternoon practice that the starting quarterback position has not been settled, the last two days, senior Drew Olson and redshirt freshman Ben Olson have been sharing snaps exclusively with the first team and senior David Koral and Pat Cowan have been working with the second unit.

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Sophomore safety Chris Horton had successful surgery on his dislocated right wrist Tuesday, but it’s uncertain when he’ll be able to return. “I know the surgery went well and I know it wasn’t as bad as they initially thought,” Dorrell said. “They thought that he may have had severe ligament damage in there, but it wasn’t as bad as they thought.”

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With McCloskey sidelined because of a right shoulder sprain and Joseph held out because of a sore left knee, redshirt freshman center Aaron Meyer worked with the No. 1 offense Wednesday afternoon.... All freshmen players have been approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse.


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