UCLA spring camp position review: Receivers

UCLA's Mossi Johnson catches a pass during spring football practice on April 2 at Spaulding Field.(Andy Holzman/Staff)

UCLA’s Mossi Johnson catches a pass during spring football practice on April 2 at Spaulding Field.(Andy Holzman/Staff)

UCLA has not produced a 1,000-yard receiver since 2011. Looking at the state of the Bruins’ offense, it’s a good bet that the drought will extend for another season.

Such is the nature of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s scheme. For three years, UCLA has divvied up targets between bevy of receivers, racking up significant total yards without creating a dominant No. 1 wideout. In 2014, Jordan Payton became the first Bruin to record more than 60 catches in the Jim Mora era; that same season, 12 others in the Pac-12 cleared that same threshold.

Payton might crack four-digit yardage as a senior, but the chemistry he built with Brett Hundley might not necessarily carry over when UCLA picks a new starter. (Even last year, Payton’s production tailed off as the season progressed; he didn’t top 58 yards or catch a single touchdown in his last four games.) This is not to say that the receiving corps are in any real trouble. After all, they return all but one member, and add a few others.

Devin Lucien’s decision to transfer out bodes well for Arizona State, but his contributions to the Bruin offense last season (225 yards, 2 TD) are easily replaceable. Besides Payton and Devin Fuller, who combined for 42 percent of UCLA’s receptions, three other receivers each notched at least 20 catches. Of those, the most exciting might be Mossi Johnson. The 6-foot, 185-pound target isn’t afraid to take a hit, and has been one of the team’s offseason stars for the past year. He looks like he’s fully regained his speed again after tearing multiple knee ligaments in 2012, and turned his one-on-one matchups against linebacker Myles Jack into one of the must-watch portions this spring.

Toward the end of camp, Fuller — who has started the past two seasons as an inside receiver — shifted outside, a switch that could very well become a full-time move. While that change might require a bit of adjustment on Fuller’s part, it would create an opportunity for Johnson to see the field more. Having him play opposite the sure-handed Thomas Duarte would make it difficult for opponents to defend the middle of the field.

A few other Bruins flashed enough this spring to project promising futures. Kenneth Walker has long been one of the fastest players on the team, and might finally have improved his hands enough to carve out a larger role. Redshirt freshman Jordan Lasley has a hot-headed streak, but bottled that up for the most part in the latter half of spring camp. Alex Van Dyke moves well and has great size, though he might be another year away from breaking out. Former quarterback Aaron Sharp looked more comfortable in his new position than anyone could have reasonably expected.

The most interesting twist to the offensive scheme will be how UCLA implements its new tight end packages, created for five-star recruit Chris Clark. Former offensive lineman Colby Cyburt switched to offense this spring as a stand-in for those situations, but those plays weren’t called frequently through four weeks of camp. That likely ticks up when Clark arrives on campus. Multi-talented fullback Nate Iese could also be a factor when the Bruins want to create mismatches with a big, athletic pass catcher.

Projected two-deep
X: Jordan Payton, Kenneth Walker/Jordan Lasley
Slot: Mossi Johnson, Darren Andrews
Y: Thomas Duarte, Tyler Scott/Aaron Sharp
Z: Devin Fuller, Eldridge Massington

Previous position reviews:
Offensive line
Running backs

  • TYtrueBRUIN300

    nice. i hope Fuller becomes a little more aggressive this season!!!

  • GoBruins!

    I think Austin Roberts is going to open some eyes once he is healthy!

  • Laker Rod

    This is my understanding of the UCLA receiver positions:

    X – Lines up on the left side and has to be a good blocker as often the swing passes to the F spot or the RB go to the left. Payton has played here the past few years and before him was Jerry Johnson in 2012. Usually more of a taller possession receiver.

    Z – Lines up on the right side. This is where Shaq Evans played. A receiver who can get good YAC tends to play here. Makes sense to have Fuller and Massington here.

    Y/TE – Lines up in the slot (left or right). Size can be like a Joseph Fauria/Thomas Duarte or a Darius Bell/Mossi Johnson.

    F – Motion guy. Usually motions from right to left and is a smaller speed guy. Thigpen/Fuller.

    With the above and also what I saw from spring practice, I see the depth chart as follows:

    X: Jordan Payton, Tyler Scott, Jordan Lasley or Alex Van Dyke

    Z: Devin Fuller or Eldridge Massington, Darren Andrews, Logan Sweet, Aaron Sharp
    Y/TE/Slot: Thomas Duarte, Mossi Johnson, Colby Cyburt, Kenny Walker, Steven Manfro, Austin Roberts

    FB/F: Nate Iese, Devin Fuller, Kenneth Walker, Ahmad Harris, Taylor Lagace

    I don’t see Chris Clark playing this year unless he shows he’s an exceptional blocker.

    • Intimidator Bruin

      To leave Chris Clark out of the 2 deep is crazy since is the only TE we have that will block. Colby Cyburt will only be in big packages so that we can clear the path for the backs. This is the way I see the 3 deep going. I show 3 because injuries and players not playing up to their potential this year.

      X: Jordan Payton, Austin Roberts, Kenneth Walker/Jordan Lasley

      Slot/F: Mossi Johnson, Darren Andrews/Aaron Sharp

      Y: Thomas Duarte, Chris Clark, Nate Iese

      Z: Devin Fuller, Eldridge Massington, Alex Van Dyke/Tyler Scott

      FB: Nate Iese, Colby Cyburt, Taylor Lagace

      • Laker Rod

        To put Chris Clark in the 2 deep is crazy before the guy has even arrived on campus.

        What you need to understand is that Jim Mora doesn’t use many true freshman for a lot of playing time at the receiver spot. Name a true frosh tight end that has done well from a blocking stand point. Both Mike Seidman and Marcedes Lewis didn’t do much as true freshman. Duarte was limited also.

        And UCLA is not going 4 receivers plus a RB with their QB situation. One of the main reasons why they have Cyburt at TE and Iese at FB is to send less guys out on patterns. It’s too confusing for the inexperienced QB’s to have so many receivers. Hundley didn’t even handle it well.

        And you haven’t been watching spring practice or know what’s going on. Austin Roberts has been hurt and he’s still recovering from his ACL injury. He’s not beating out Tyler Scott at this point. You simply disregard Scott just because he’s a walk on. Scott has great size and is a good blocker. He’s been in the system 4 solid years also and will be a 5th year senior.

        And Aaron Sharp cannot play the slot right now. Best way to use Sharp is with his long distance speed and just have him run some fly patterns to tire out some CB’s. Sharp needs work still.

        Mossi Johnson doesn’t play the “F” position. I already explained what each position does. Mossi Johnson doesn’t move in motion. Johnson plays the Y spot. Rarely are Johnson and Duarte in the game at the same time.

        Iese isn’t a Y either. He doesn’t line up in the slot. He’s in the backfield.

        UCLA will line up as follows:

        Package A
        X – Payton or Tyler Scott
        Z – Fuller or Massington
        Y – Duarte or Moss Johnson
        FB – Iese
        RB – Perkins or Starks

        Package B

        X – Payton or Tyler Scott or Massington
        Z – Massington or Fuller
        TE – Cyburt
        F – Fuller or Walker or Ahmad Harris
        RB – Perkins or Starks

        Package C (Power/short yardage)

        X – Payton or Tyler Scott
        Z – Massington or Fuller
        TE – Cyburt or Najee Toran
        TE – Vanderdoes or Clark or Moala
        RB – Perkins or Starks or Iese or Jack

        I don’t see UCLA going much deeper into the rotation. Darren Andrews will get in there from time to time. Same with Lasley possibly. All depends on how Lasley progresses.

  • ProbationU

    Hopefully Lasley and Kenneth Walker can step it up this year and give us a deep threat. Also, we need to throw to the middle of the field and Duarte gives us a big target there and possibly Chris Clark or Nate Iese. We hear a lot about Iese and then we don’t see the team scheme much for him.

    Fall camp should be interesting when guys like Clark and hopefully Jamabo show up and we can get an idea if they are college ready. I would guess that Clark has a better shot at playing this year than Jamabo, but that is just a guess.