UCLA spring practice standouts

Spring standouts for UCLA include Takkarist McKinley (top left) and Kenny Walker (far right). Photos by Brad Graverson and Thomas R. Cordova, Daily Breeze/Press-Telegram

Spring standouts for UCLA include Takkarist McKinley (top left) and Kenny Walker (far right). Photos by Brad Graverson, Thomas R. Cordova and Michael Owen Baker (Daily Breeze/Press-Telegram)

Spring camp is over and while we wait for the Bruins to resurface in San Bernardino, we’ll get to breaking down what happened over the past month of practice.

First, here are three things we learned and three things we’re left wondering about after 15 practices.

Second, if you missed any coverage from spring, you can find links to all the blog/Daily News stories in the week 4 wrap up.

Now finally, here are some players who stood out during spring and you should look out for when fall camp rolls around:

OFFENSE

Kenny Walker (left) makes a catch during the Spring Showcase on Saturday, April 23. Photo by Michael Owen Baker.

Kenny Walker (left) makes a catch during the Spring Showcase on Saturday, April 23. Photo by Michael Owen Baker.

Receiver Kenny Walker

I distinctly remember my first time watching Walker. It was last year’s season opener in the Rose Bowl when he dropped Josh Rosen’s flawless first-career passing attempt. It was a pretty big let-down.

Walker said he has worked tirelessly to change his perception as a fast receiver who can’t catch, and it showed during spring. He had some of the best plays of the day during the Spring Showcase, including a great over-the-shoulder catch near the sideline during seven-on-sevens. Continue reading

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UCLA receivers trying to fill big void

The notebook from Monday’s practice was focused on the receiving group and the unit’s search for a leader. The Bruins need to fill a very large void left by Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte, who were the team’s top two receivers last year.

Below are two charts of how some of the receiving numbers broke down last year. The left pie is a representation of the total receiving yards or catches by UCLA receivers last year. The yellow slices represent players who are not with the team anymore, while the big blue slice on the left represents the production of the receivers who are returning for 2016, and that total is further broken down in the left pie. Neither chart includes totals from running backs. Continue reading

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UCLA receiver Mossi Johnson transitions to safety

One of UCLA’s promising young receivers might not spend as much time on offense anymore.

Sophomore Mossi Johnson switched to safety last weekend, playing a handful of snaps on defense to help bolster a secondary that lost cornerback Fabian Moreau for the season to a foot injury. The Crenshaw High product had made multiple catches in 10 straight games dating to last October, but only touched the ball once on offense at Arizona last Saturday. Darren Andrews got most of the minutes at slot receiver instead, and recorded career highs with three catches and 40 yards.

While both coaches and teammates have praised the 6-foot, 185-pound Johnson’s athleticism, neither defensive coordinator Tom Bradley nor head coach Jim Mora sounded certain as to how much and how quickly his defensive role would expand. The former said it would likely depend on the specific game situation, as well as the player’s own development.

“I’d rather be a week late with someone than a week early,” Bradley said, “and put him in a situation where he’s not quite ready for it. … We got him some reps in some coverages that he would know.”

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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. Continue reading

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