It’s the third spot that bedevils UCLA at quarterback

UCLA does have quarterback issues. They just lurk below the surface.

The Bruins have starter Kevin Prince and backup Richard Brehaut, but the depth chart at quarterback gets shallow from that point. It leaves the Bruins vulnerable if there’s an injury or a transfer.

“It’s a precarious deal,” offensive coordinator Norm Chow said. “We need to find a No. 3.”

Those thoughts have been on Coach Rick Neuheisel’s mind as well, saying the situation “is something I ponder all the time.”

Finding an answer on the roster is a bit tricky.

Nick Crissman is the only other quarterback on scholarship. The Bruins also wave walk-ons Ted Landers, who is from Gardena Serra High, and Clayton Tunney, a transfer from UC Davis.

Crissman, who will be a third-year sophomore in the fall, has had a rough time at UCLA. He suffered a separated right shoulder running the scout team as a freshman and has had two shoulder surgeries.

“They took out three pins and removed about a quarter inch of scar tissue in the last one,” Crissman said. “That really cleared things up. I feel healthy for the first time since I’ve been at UCLA.”

Crissman, though, has struggled in the Bruins’ new “pistol” offense. He was yanked after throwing an interception Saturday and did not see any reps Tuesday.

“We’re trying to make sure Nick is healthy,” Chow said. “We also wanted to get Tunney a couple of reps.”

Neuheisel and Chow know how dicey the situation can be. During spring practice in 2008, the Bruins lost quarterbacks Ben Olson (foot) and Patrick Cowan (knee) to non-contact injuries on back-to-back plays.

Community college transfer Kevin Craft was elevated to the starting spot, as Cowan did not return and Olson re-injured the foot in August. At the moment, there isn’t a third option to fall back on.

“That’s the problem at UCLA right now, we’re not deep enough,” Chow said.

Smith injured

Wide receiver Josh Smith on Tuesday hobbled off the field after he “tweaked” his knee, Neuheisel said. The extent of the injury was unknown, but Neuheisel was optimistic it was minor.

Tackle Nik Abele sat out practice with what was called a “stinger” in his right shoulder. Abele had similar problems in the fall, “which is why this was precautionary,” Neuheisel said.

Center Kai Maiava (shoulder) suited up for practice but was limited to individual drills. Wide receiver Taylor Embree (concussion) and tight end Joseph Fauria (groin) practiced, but were held out of contact drills.

Sheller back strong

Tackle Sean Sheller has worked himself back to the same opportunity he had two years ago.

Sheller was poised to win a starting spot in spring of 2008, but suffered a severe knee injury in an all-terrain vehicle accident that summer. The knee had to “almost be totally reconstructed,” he said, which left Sheller so far down the offensive line depth chart that he was moved to defensive tackle for a time in the fall.

Now Sheller has a second chance. He spent much of Tuesday’s practice working with the first unit at left tackle.

“When he came back from surgery, he was not the same player that I saw that first spring,” offensive line coach Bob Palcic said. “He seems back to where he was that first year. He’s having a good spring.”

Sheller, who will be a fifth-year senior in the fall, said he never lost faith that he would get back to where he was in 2008.

“In my mind, that spot was always right there.” Sheller said. “It was in my head and was never out of it. All the time I was working, I had to prove to everybody that I can still do it. I still have a lot to prove since I messed up two years ago.”