UCLA offensive lineman Michael Alves makes case for starting role
LOS ANGELES >> A text from UCLA offensive line coach Hank Fraley flashed across Michael Alves’ phone screen.
“You’re going with the ones tomorrow,” it read.
Instead of being excited about his promotion from second-string guard to the first group, Alves was concerned.
“Is someone injured or something?” the redshirt freshman recalls thinking after hearing of the change.
But it wasn’t an injury that shook up UCLA’s once-solid No. 1 offensive line. It was Alves’ consistent improvement.
He’s practiced as the No. 1 right guard for the past week, but knows nothing is settled when it comes to who will start on Sept. 3 against Texas A&M.
“I’ve been trying my best, do whatever I can to be on the field and actually (Fraley) seems pretty impressed with the film,” Alves said. “It’s just doing whatever I can to stay on the field.”
He made the full-time move to the No. 1 offense on Monday, Aug. 14, but struggled with the speed of the first unit. Quarterback Josh Rosen was changing plays at the line of scrimmage. Center Scott Quessenberry, who Alves calls the “quarterback for the lineman,” barked out audibles and switches everything. Then Alves had to go against the No. 1 defensive line, including senior Matt Dickerson or sophomore Boss Tagaloa.
After he caught his breath against the ones, Alves could finally display the improvements he made to earn him the spot. He refined his hand placement, allowing him to swipe the defensive lineman’s hands and pull his back quickly. In the run game, he said his stance is lower and more powerful, thanks to tips from Fraley, who spent 11 years in the NFL as an interior lineman.
“From the start of spring to now, he understands the scheme and the techniques and the fundamentals we’re teaching him and angles on his blocks and protection calls,” head coach Jim Mora said.
With Alves at right guard, Andre James moved from guard to right tackle with the No. 1 unit. Kolton Miller and Najee Toran are at left tackle and guard, respectively, for the starting group, with Quessenberry at center.
Kenny Lacy and Sunny Odogwu were splitting reps at right tackle with the first group at the beginning of training camp, but are now the left and right tackles, respectively, for the second unit. Jake Burton, a converted defensive lineman, plays left guard with the No. 2 group, with Josh Wariboko-Alali at center and Poasi Moala at right guard.
Alves experimented briefly at tackle during spring practice, but was moved back to guard at the beginning of training camp. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound San Diego native is at home on the inside of the line, where he played all his life. He’s also finding a home among the starters.
“Mike, he comes in, it’s like normal,” Toran said. “We didn’t skip a beat. (He) came in, worked hard. He finishes people, worked just like everybody else. If you can get the job done, you can get the job done.”
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