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Injuries putting a crimp in UCLA football’s practice style

Jim Mora's UCLA Bruins football team has caught the injury bug, "We had more guys riding the [stationary] bike on the side than we had on the field today," the coach said.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The numbers game is tilting against UCLA during spring football practice.

The Bruins can count the number of healthy defensive linemen on one hand. The number of defensive backs — those on scholarship — is even less. As for offensive linemen, seven is usually only a lucky number in Las Vegas.

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“We had more guys riding the [stationary] bike on the side than we had on the field today,” Coach Jim Mora said Thursday.

The reduced numbers because of injuries had Mora scaling back practice. The Bruins went without pads and had a shorter workout.

“It’s hard because you’ve got to get the work in,” Mora said. “We have a tempo we like, a pace, so what we have to do is cut down repetitions during periods. We’ll go 20 plays to 16, or 16 to 12.”

In doing that, “guys are getting the same amount of reps. We just don’t have as many guys taking many reps,” Mora said.

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Nose tackle Brandon Tuliaupupu’s knee injury Wednesday heightened the concern. Tuliaupupu sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and will likely miss the 2013 season. The loss left the Bruins with five healthy defensive linemen.

“It’s always tough when you have a limited number of guys,” nose tackle Seali’i Epenesa said. “You have moments when you’re tired. You’ve got to fight through it. That’s the mental barrier coach talks about. I mean, it could be like this during the season.”

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Epenesa, who is 6 feet 1, 316 pounds, focused on the bright side: “It’s good for me,” he said, “because I got to get into better shape.”

The thinning depth isn’t limited to the defensive line. The Bruins have only four healthy defensive backs who are on scholarship. Offensive linemen have dwindled to seven.

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Mora is taking a pragmatic approach. “If you overwork them, they get too fatigued, then they are more inclined to get injured,” Mora said. “It’s a fine line you walk. As a coach, I like to be out here all day. But that’s not reasonable.”

Comeback trail

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Jeremy Castro is catching up with his football career. He signed with UCLA a year ago but could not enroll last summer after it was discovered he had not taken an SAT test. Castro qualified and enrolled in January, eagerly awaiting spring practice.

“I’m just getting back in the groove of things,” Castro said. “All is going swell so far.”

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Castro was a highly regarded defensive lineman at Murrieta Vista Murrieta High who was projected to play linebacker in college. He said the year off didn’t hurt him.

“Mentally, I felt like I was here,” he said. “I still did my conditioning. It was like football without the pads.”

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Football with the pads has been a little trickier.

“The main thing is I have to get the plays down,” Castro said.

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chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes


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