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UCLA football: Defensive end Odighizuwa's skills are as billed

August 14, 2010 | 12:46 pm
The first day of full pads, bringing the first head-to-head-butt confrontation at UCLA’s practice Friday.

Freshman defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa lined up across from freshman tackle Chris Ward in the “Oklahoma drill,” a one-on-one, quien es mas macho test.

Moments later, the 318-pound Ward was being pushed backward.

So when Bruins’ coaches start talking about Odighizuwa having a chance to contribute this season, it’s not just coach patter to say something nice about every player.

Odighizuwa, ranked the second-best high school defensive end in the nation by Rivals.com in 2009, has the physical capability to see time at defensive end, an opportunity that has increased with Datone Jones out at least half the season with a broken bone in his foot.

“He just needs to learn the techniques,” defensive line coach Todd Howard said. “He’s strong enough.”

That was seen during the U.S. Army All-American game, when the 6-4, 240-pound Odighizuwa manhandled Seantrel Henderson (USC, Miami) on plays.

What Odighizuwa needs to absorb in order to see significant time is the finesse side of the position.

“The level of competition [in high school] isn’t that great,” said Odighizuwa, who played at Portland [Ore.] Douglas. “You don’t always use technique because you’re more physically dominant than your opponent.”

It didn’t take long for Odighizuwa to see more was needed at the college level, saying, “If you try to revert to your high school ways, nothing works.”

So Odighizuwa, who averaged nine tackles per game as a senior, has centered on fine-tuning his skills.

“He had a good high school coach, so his technique wasn’t bad,” Howard said. “But when you’re going up against a guy 50 pounds lighter than you, you’re less likely to rely on technique. You can do anything and beat that guy. We’ve been working on his first step and hand placement.”

Odighizuwa was already in the mix before Jones was injured. He has seen time with the second-team unit thus far in practice.

“I’m getting little more confident each day,” Odighizuwa said. “I have to keep playing fast and not be timid. Everybody says I have the size and the speed. It’s just not being timid and playing smart.”

Prince update

Quarterback Kevin Prince will likely return to practice Monday, Coach Rick Neuheisel said, though nothing is set in stone.

Prince, out with a strained oblique muscle in his left side, said he receives five treatments each day. Neuheisel said there was no need to worry at this point.

“You feel better because he had experience playing last year,” Neuheisel said. When asked when it would be a concern, Neuheisel said: “If we get all the way up to game week and he hasn’t played, then it would be a problem. But I think he’s fine.”

Quick kicks

Freshman safety Dietrich Riley added to his reputation during Saturday morning’s practice. He came across the field and hammered receiver Taylor Embree, jarring the ball loose. On Friday, Riley leveled 6-5, 228-pound Anthony Barr with a hit.… Alex Mascarenas missed practice with a sore hamstring.… Dalton Hilliard missed practice for a personal reason not related to academics or football.… Kicker Kai Forbath has been limited because of a minor groin injury. Forbath was bothered by a similar injury last summer.… Neuheisel said defensive lineman Wesley Flowers was “grabbing his side” at the end of practice, but his condition had not yet been determined.

 --Chris Foster

Chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter.com/cfosterlatimes
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