UCLA’s Nate Iese will try to help neutralize Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett

Nate Iese runs after a catch during a game against Virginia on Sept. 5, 2015.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA offensive tackle Conor McDermott versus Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett could be the most intriguing individual matchup of the Bruins’ Sept. 3 season opener.

It probably won’t be entirely a one-on-one battle.

Tight end Nate Iese will try to help McDermott keep Garrett out of the Bruins’ backfield, one of the benefits of UCLA switching to an offense that features tight ends and fullbacks.

“It always helps when you can put different bodies on a person,” UCLA offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu said Friday.

Preventing Garrett, projected as one of the top picks in the 2017 NFL draft, from getting a hand on quarterback Josh Rosen and the Bruins’ running backs is only part of Iese’s challenge. Using his hands to catch Rosen’s passes will also be required.


Those hands have already received some reverential reviews. UCLA Coach Jim Mora likened them to those of NFL Hall of Fame receivers Jerry Rice and Cris Carter.

“I’m not overstating that by saying he has some of the best hands catching the football of anyone I’ve ever been around,” Mora said of the fifth-year senior, who has 24 career receptions. “Just big, giant hands and he catches it softly.”

Iese said he honed those hands while playing baseball and basketball in addition to football. Extra sessions with Rosen outside of formal practices also helped.

UCLA will turn its attention to Texas A&M after three weeks of practice. 

Iese played linebacker as well as a hybrid receiver-fullback previously but features an ideal body type for tight end at 6-3 and 242 pounds.

“If you were to create a football player in Madden,” Rosen said, referring to the video game, “I’m pretty sure a lot of his physical attributes would be on there.”

Flag football

Some things that happen in the preseason stay in the preseason. Among them is Mora inviting referees to penalize his team.

“I’ve asked them to call it extremely tight,” Mora said. “I said, ‘Let’s go overboard. Anything that’s even close, let’s be very ticky-tack.’ ”

The Bruins have been among the most penalized teams in the nation over the last four years. They averaged 70.5 penalty yards per game last season, ranking 117th out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

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Asking referees to litter the field with yellow flags in practice was intended to serve as a red alert to Mora’s players. But the coach has found during the four times his team has used referees that they’ve largely kept the flags in their pockets.

“Considering that every play is 11 UCLA [players] versus 11 UCLA [players] — so you’ve got double the number of opportunities for a penalty on a play in practice — it’s been really good,” Mora said. “But I think the proof will come throughout the season.”

Finding some zen could also play a factor. Mental conditioning coach Trevor Moawad, while not specifically addressing penalties, has preached concentration and attention to detail, themes that could help lower the number of infractions.

“When you’re tired and you’re worn out and you’ve got a great player across from you in a very challenging situation, it’s being able to maintain focus to come off at the right time or not false start,” Mora said. “It’s technique, it’s moving your feet and getting your body in position so you don’t have to reach out and grab.”

Quick hits

Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner completed some drills Friday after being sidelined a week by appendicitis. Defensive end Takkarist McKinley, who’s recently been slowed by a groin injury, attended practice but did not fully participate. “We weren’t doing anything different than he had already known,” Bradley said, “so he was getting a lot of mental reps.” … Bradley described the Bruins a bit wobbly legged after three weeks of preseason practice. “You notice it when you get out there and you see some of the guys that have been hurt and they come back and they look like gazelles compared to some of the other guys,” Bradley said. Players will rest Saturday and Sunday before resuming practice Monday, when formal game preparations start.

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch