Michael Alves feared there would be some accompanying bad news earlier this week when he received a text message from UCLA offensive line coach Hank Fraley informing him that he would be playing with the starters in practice the next day.
“At first I was concerned, like, is someone injured or something?” Alves recalled Friday. “Because I mean, when you move from twos to ones it’s usually because someone gets injured because we had a solid group of ones.”
No one was injured. The Bruins just wanted to get a look at how the redshirt freshman would fare as the first-team right guard.
They must have liked what they’ve seen because Alves hasn’t budged since the change was made. He’s taken the spot previously occupied by Andre James, who has moved to right tackle.
“We’re looking for the best five — the best combination of five, I should say,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said earlier this week when asked about Alves playing as part of a first-team offensive line that has also included Kolton Miller at left tackle, Najee Toran at left guard and Scott Quessenberry at center in addition to James.
The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Alves said the pace is faster with the starters compared to the backups and there’s more happening before each play.
“Our ones are changing things at the line of scrimmage that the twos don’t normally do, so the first two days were a little bit of a struggle,” Alves said. “The defense is also a lot quicker, stronger, faster, so it’s a big adjustment, but I think I’ve gotten used to it and I think it’s definitely helped me a lot.”
Alves said Fraley made a change to his stance a few days ago that has allowed him to move his body lower and generate more power with his blocks. He’s also improved his hand placement to better counteract defensive linemen.
Alves said the offensive line continues to work on its communication with all the player movement, but he appears to have convinced his teammates that he’s worthy of being a starter.
“Mike, he comes in, it’s like normal,” Toran said. “We didn’t skip a beat.”
Alves had played some tackle in the spring because of a shortage of bodies at the position but said he’s most comfortable at guard, where he’s spent the bulk of his career. Learning multiple positions has been a staple of life for every lineman who plays for Fraley.
“He came from the NFL and he knows if you want to play at the next level, you have to be able to play every position,” Alves said of Fraley, who spent the last three seasons as an assistant offensive line coach with the Minnesota Vikings.
Alves might have found the spot that will best allow him to help his team — in the starting lineup.
“We’re excited about his progress,” Mora said. “He’s coming along well.”
Rough day for Bolu
Tailback Bolu Olorunfunmi engaged in a lengthy sideline rant that led to an early dismissal from practice.
He had absorbed punishing hits twice on runs in a short span, limping off the field after being waylaid by safety Adarius Pickett. Olorunfunmi returned only to be bowled over again before becoming visibly angry and yelling once he reached the sideline.
Tailbacks Nate Starks and Joshua Kelley tried to calm Olorunfunmi, with negligible results. Running backs coach DeShaun Foster then pointed toward the Wasserman Football Center and Olorunfunmi walked off the field.
Defensive lineman Keisean Lucier-South has spent some time at linebacker in recent practices. … Tight end Austin Roberts, who had returned Thursday from a lengthy injury absence, did not practice.