As UCLA's football team opens official practice today in preparation for its Sept. 5 opener against San Diego State at the Rose Bowl, here's a look at the positions where there is the most -- and least -- competition for playing time:
Offensive line: The only thing more in need of reshaping is the U.S. auto industry. Center Kai Maiava has a role. Everyone else has to audition -- with good reason. Last season, the Bruins couldn't run block or pass block. Runners averaged 2.6 yards a carry, and quarterbacks were sacked 35 times. UCLA has seven new linemen this year and those who played last season are expected to show dramatic improvement or be shown the bench. "We have 18 offensive linemen coming to camp; we're going to find five," offensive coordinator Norm Chow said.
Strong safety: This is the one spot on defense where there isn't at least a front-runner. Redshirt sophomore Glenn Love, redshirt freshman Tony Dye and senior Aaron Ware are the top candidates. Love has good size -- he's 6 feet 4, 210 pounds -- and played four games in the secondary last season. Dye is versatile, having played some at nickel back. Ware is more a free safety, but he started at strong safety in the 2008 season opener.
Defensive end: This spot has been a revolving door since Bruce Davis left after the 2007 season. Datone Jones, a sophomore, appears ready to claim it. He has added weight and retained the pass rushing skills that impressed coaches. Reginald Stokes, a junior, is expected to push him.
Tight end: Is there such thing as a quadruple tight end set? Logan Paulsen, the opening day starter last season, received a medical redshirt and returns for his second senior season. In his absence, Ryan Moya had 38 receptions and led the team with three touchdown catches. He was backed up by Cory Harkey, who has beefed up. Freshman Morrell Presley showcased his prodigious skills in spring ball.
Punter: With an offense like UCLA's last season, a team needs someone who can kick the ball. (And make a long snap. It's worth noting that the only Bruins player to make Playboy's preseason All-American team is long snapper Christian Yount.) Aaron Perez handled the punting well in 2008; Jeff Locke is the favorite to step in this season.
Defensive tackle: The only concern UCLA coaches have about junior Brian Price is that he may bolt to the NFL after this season. There is no better defensive tackle in the Pacific 10 Conference.
Middle linebacker: Senior Reggie Carter is the heart of a defense he says is the best in the conference. He handles the defensive signals, levels ballcarriers and is an All-American quote.
Cornerback: Alterraun Verner has scored more touchdowns, three, than any of the Bruins wide receivers. That number will be hard to improve on, as opposing teams throw elsewhere these days.
Quarterback: Redshirt freshman Kevin Prince has not played in a game for two seasons, but he won the job in spring practice and Chow does not believe in quarterback roulette.
Wide receiver: Terrence Austin is expected to be a big-play man this season. He led the team with 53 receptions in 2008 and also returns kickoffs and punts.
At UCLA's Spaulding Field unless noted.
3 p.m. today; 3-6 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 4-6 p.m. Friday; 9:15 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday; 3:30 p.m. Sunday; 9 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. Aug. 17 and 19; 3 p.m. Aug. 18 and 20; 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Aug. 21; 5 p.m. Aug. 22 (scrimmage at Drake Stadium).
Future dates are TBA. Practices are open to the public. Times are subject to change.