Miami’s loss has become UCLA’s gain.
Malcolm Bunche left Miami’s football program seeking more playing time, and he fills UCLA’s greatest need on the offensive line.
Left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo made himself available for the NFL draft and Bunche slides nicely into what had been a vacancy.
“He gives us that big body, gives us that experienced offensive lineman we need,” Coach Jim Mora said. “He has acted a little bit like a mentor to some of those guys as well, in his own quiet way. I appreciate that he’s here.”
Bunche has one year of eligibility left and can play immediately because he has already earned an undergraduate degree.
He started 12 games at Miami as a sophomore, but was reduced to a reserve last season.
“Miami was great to me, good to me, I had fun there,” Bunche said. “I enjoyed the players and I miss those guys.”
But, he said, “It was time for a change.”
Playing time, or lack of it, was at the root of his decision.
“I felt like I put in the time on the practice field and the weight room,” Bunche said. “They kind of didn’t play me as much as I would like. It was time to leave. It was time to grow.”
At UCLA, Bunche said, “I felt like I can be that piece, or another piece, to the puzzle.”
A very big piece at 6 feet 8, 327 pounds.
Bunche played tackle at Miami, but he will change positions at UCLA, filling the only spot not occupied by a returning starter.
Bunche was delayed while waiting to be accepted to graduate school. But he quickly formed a solid playing relationship with left tackle Caleb Benenoch through two practices.
That’s good news to quarterback Brett Hundley. Benenoch and Bunche protect his blind side.
Benenoch was particularly impressive Wednesday. On one play, he buried freshman linebacker Zach Whitley with a block, then let out a primal scream.
With Bunche in place, there seems little to settle on UCLA’s offensive line. Center Jake Brendel and right guard Alex Redmond return. Simon Goines is recovering from knee surgery but it is expected that he and Poasi Moala will compete to start at right tackle in summer camp. Goines started seven games before injuring his knee. Moala sat out his freshman year as a redshirt.
There’s a catch
The Bruins look deep and talented at wide receiver.
UCLA returns Devin Fuller and Jordan Payton, who were consistent and effective last season, and Devin Lucien, who had a big finish. Kenneth Walker returns from back surgery.
The newcomers, or quasi-newcomers, have also impressed coaches. Eldridge Massington and Mossi Johnson came to UCLA with knee injuries a year ago and were never a factor.
Massington has been particularly effective in getting separation to make catches in the red zone.
Linebacker Isaako Savaiinaea left practice with his left arm in a sling after suffering a shoulder injury. X-rays were negative and the injury is described as minor, but he could be out until next week. … Ian Taubler, who is moving from defensive end to linebacker, was held out of practice as a precautionary measure after experiencing concussion-like symptoms. He missed last season because of concussions. … UCLA will hold its spring game at the StubHub Center on April 26. Tickets are $5 in advance; $10 the day of the game. UCLA students and children 2 and under are free. Information: (310) 825-2946. Parking lots open at 1 p.m. Picnicking will be allowed on the property in designated areas but open flames are prohibited.