Inexperienced players take over key roles

UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel seemed in a spinning mood after Thursday's practice, invoking the image of "Rocky" for his team.

It had been that kind of day.

Senior guard Micah Kia was lost for the season, after an MRI exam revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Center Kai Maiava, meanwhile, was a spectator, sitting out contact drills, said to be precautionary because of a sore shoulder.

On the other side of the ball, Jerzy Siewierski, a starting defensive tackle, was missing because of a back injury. Korey Bosworth, a starting defensive end, watched contact drills because of a "few bumps and bruises," he said.

"No question our depth is an issue," Neuheisel said, adding, "but it is what it is," which was followed by an optimistic moment, "we have to play with our hair on fire . . . "

Whether the Bruins have the manpower for such a blaze and reach Neuheisel's reasonable goal of a bowl game, remains to be seen. But the injuries have piled up this week, leaving inexperienced players in key places.

"My first year at Washington, 10 of the 11 guys on the kickoff team were freshmen," Neuheisel said.

Asked whether that team's offensive line was that young, he said, "No, no, it wasn't. That was different."

The Bruins first offensive line unit included freshman offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo and guard Stanley Hasiak and two community college transfers, guard Eddie Williams and center Ryan Taylor.

Maiava's condition was said not to be serious and he was expected to return to practice today. But Kia's injury all but guarantees that quarterback Kevin Prince's blind side will be protected by freshmen.

"That was a big loss," offensive line coach Bob Palcic said. "Micah was having a great camp. This was going to be his fourth year playing. He's an experienced guy."

On the other side

The defensive line, meanwhile, has its own problems.

Siewierski's injury was being downplayed, but he did not make an appearance at practice after injuring his back lifting weights in the morning. He was listed as day to day.

But one day was enough to expose the depth concerns at defensive tackle. David Carter, a converted defensive end, was moved on to the first team and Sean Sheller, who was an offensive lineman four days ago, was on the second team.

The Bruins are also without senior defensive tackle Jess Ward, who is out two to three weeks because of a knee injury.

Without Siewierski and Ward, Brian Price is the only scholarship player who was a defensive tackle a year ago. Meanwhile, Connor Bradford, who was moved from the offensive line this week, and Keenan Graham, a true freshman, were the second-team defensive ends.

Quick hits

Kenny Stills, a wide receiver from Encinitas La Costa, has narrowed his choices to UCLA and Oklahoma. . . . Safety Tony Dye was in a red no-contact jersey, as he is still recovering from a collision he had with fullback Chane Moline on Tuesday. . . . Linebacker Steve Sloan (concussion) returned to contact drills.


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