UCLA notes: Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone high on UCLA receiver depth

» Despite Devin Lucien being sidelined by a head injury, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone wasn’t concerned with the state of his receiving corps.

“I don’t look at this like, ‘Hey, these three guys are starters. These three guys are backups,’” he said Wednesday. “I’ve got about six guys out there that are all starters in my eyes. They kind of roll in, do their deal.”

Lucien finished his sophomore season strong, catching for 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Bruins’ last five games. Without him lined up at outside, fellow camp standout Eldridge Massington would likely move into the starting lineup.

Junior Logan Sweet, who had three catches last year, also got first-team reps on Wednesday morning. Starting receiver Jordan Payton has practiced mostly at inside receiver the last few days due to other injuries, which helped open up a spot for Sweet.

“He’s really came a long ways from two years ago, when he first got here,” Mazzone said of Sweet. “He really figures into those top four or five guys at the outside for us.”

» Freshman quarterback Aaron Sharp participated in his first full practice after joining the team last night. Given how light the morning session was, however, the lefty didn’t get a chance to show off his arm. Continue reading

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UCLA notes: Two linebacker spots still ‘wide open’ in Jeff Ulbrich’s defense

» UCLA doesn’t have a lot of question marks, but one position group that’s still unsettled are the linebackers.

Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich called competition at outside linebacker (opposite Myles Jack) and inside linebacker (opposite Eric Kendricks) “wide open” — naming five candidates for the former and three for the latter.

Outside linebackers have shuffled up and down the depth chart this week, but on Friday, redshirt junior Aaron Wallace and sophomore Deon Hollins got more play than 19-year-old junior Kenny Orjioke. Wallace has gotten love from both Ulbrich and head coach Jim Mora this week, but he doesn’t look like he has the speed to be a great pass rusher. That’s an area that Hollins excels at, and he’s looked better than he did in spring.

The competition inside is crowded, but true freshman Kenny Young has been fun to watch. He’s not the same type of do-it-all stud that Myles Jack is, though his work ethic has sparked comparisons.

» After leaving Thursday’s practice following a hit to the head, linebacker Zach Whitley wore a neck brace on Friday. Not an encouraging sign, but it could have been precautionary. Continue reading

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UCLA notes: Receiver Mossi Johnson returns to practice after shoulder injury

Safety Tahaan Goodman breaks up a pass intended for receiver Tyler Scott. Tuesday, August 5, 2014. (John Valenzuela/ Daily Bulletin)

Safety Tahaan Goodman breaks up a pass intended for receiver Tyler Scott. Tuesday, August 5, 2014. (John Valenzuela/ Daily Bulletin)

» Mossi Johnson appears to have avoided the worst. After leaving Monday’s practice with a left shoulder injury, he returned on Tuesday to participate in some light individual drills.

Head coach Jim Mora said Johnson — a surprise performer at inside receiver this spring — was diagnosed with a second-degree AC sprain. Johnson will likely be held out of full contact for two weeks, but an earlier return isn’t out of the question either.

In addition to being an obvious physical setback, a serious injury could have dealt a heavy emotional blow to a player that had already grayshirted the 2013 season to rehab multiple torn knee ligaments.

Elsewhere on the injury front, true freshman linebacker Cameron Griffin left Tuesday’s practice with a shoulder injury of uncertain severity. Linebacker Zach Whitley has been somewhat limited the first two days due to cramps.

» Tuesday’s best play can be credited to Myles Jack, who snatched a remarkable interception during one-on-one drills. Continue reading

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UCLA notes: Jim Mora warns against stereotyping Brett Hundley as ‘runner’

» Brett Hundley led UCLA with 748 rushing yards last season, but head coach Jim Mora emphasized at Pac-12 Media Days that his quarterback is — first and foremost — a passer.

“I say that about Brett because people have a tendency at times to see an African-American quarterback and say he’s a runner,” Mora said. “And I hate that stereotype. I always have. I coached Mike Vick. I believe we stereotype those guys started with that, and I don’t want that to happen with Brett.

“I’m going to make sure it doesn’t. It shouldn’t. The guy’s a passer, man, but he can run.”

» Mora smiled when asked about the weather in San Bernardino, where UCLA will start training camp on Aug. 4: “I hope it’s hot. I would just like us to be in triple digits. As long as we’re in triple digits, I’ll be happy.”

Unlike last summer, UCLA will not go down to San Diego for a three-day pre-camp session with Navy SEALs. Mora said the experience helped his team later in the season — particularly when it needed to bond together through the death of receiver Nick Pasquale — but didn’t want to dull the impact by repeating it too often.

» What does two-way superstar Myles Jack have in store for his sophomore season? Not even his teammates are sure.

“I’m excited,” said linebacker Eric Kendricks. “I don’t even know what to expect. He put on 15 (pounds) of muscle. He’s gotten so much stronger. He’s been working hard. That’s all you can ask of a guy. He doesn’t let any of this hype, this circle of fame get to his head.” Continue reading

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UCLA post-spring position outlook: Receivers

Spring football is done, and over three months still stand between us and the start of UCLA’s third season under Jim Mora — one that comes with national title aspirations and accompanying media glare. Over the next week, this blog will cover each of the Bruins’ position groups. Next up …

Receivers

Even after losing No. 1 target Shaq Evans, UCLA won’t lack for targets. Just look at how Evans’ numbers changed from his junior to senior season: he tripled his touchdown total to nine, but dipped from 60 catches and 877 yards to 47 and 709 in 2013. The Bruins ranked 44th in the country in passing yards per game, but no individual was among the top 100 nationally in receiving yards per game.

The diversification of UCLA’s receiving corps continues this fall. Continue reading

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Position coach Eric Yarber talks about UCLA’s receivers


On Eldridge Massington, who spent redshirted last season and spent over a year recovering from a torn ACL:

“He’s coming along. He’s transitioning pretty good. Just need him to play a little faster, stop thinking. Sometimes, he has paralysis by analysis, so he plays a little slower. When he knows what he’s doing and knows his assignments, knows the technique to use, he’s playing well. …

“At his break point, instead of letting the defensive back dictate where he breaks, he’s running through shoulders and dropping his weight and trying to create separation. Trying to play big. He’s 6-3, 215 — he’s got to play that way. … Continue reading

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Spring notes: Malcolm Bunche makes practice debut at left guard


– Graduate transfer Malcolm Bunche finally debuted after missing the first week of UCLA’s spring practice while waiting for his paperwork to clear the admissions department. The former Miami starter looked impressive as the first-string left guard, though he got tired fairly quickly.

Bunche looks like a tackle at 6-foot-7, but head coach Jim Mora said the plan is to keep the senior at guard — pointing out his “guard girth” at 327 pounds.

Scott Quessenberry got some first-team reps at guard late in practice, but if the line gets fully healthy, he’ll almost certainly be a reserve.

Alex Redmond has participated in every practice, but has a cast over his left hand after a pre-spring surgery. UCLA’s everyday starter at right guard last year as a freshman, Redmond has sat out a few series here and there.

– Mora didn’t have a timeline for injured reserve lineman Ben Wysocki, who was on the early two-deep this spring. He could be out for the spring with a sprained ankle.

– Eldridge Massington redshirted last season while working his way back from a torn ACL he suffered in high school, but looks like he could be developing into a decent possession receiver and/or red-zone target. He doesn’t look like he has track-type speed anymore, but he used his strength and size to make several end-zone grabs on Monday night.

Devin Lucien is again coming down with highlight catch after highlight catch, something that he’s done before in past camps. The athletic wideout came on late last season, but has long looked better in practices than he has in games. With Shaq Evans gone now, Lucien could finally be in for a breakout as a redshirt junior.

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Jim Mora says new targeting penalty is worst rule change he’s seen in football

SAN BERNARDINO — During a recent fall camp practice, one of the officials brought in to help UCLA suppress penalties approached Jim Mora. One of the hits, he told the Bruins’ head coach, would have resulted in an ejection.

Forty-five minutes after the session ended, the official changed course: Upon further review, there wasn’t enough evidence that the player had targeted a defenseless opponent.

“Well, OK, so do I get to now bring in, ‘Go put your stuff back on, get back out’?” Mora said Thursday. “How does that work? I don’t like it.”

Such is the fault in human judgment. Tweaks to the college football rulebook have greatly increased the penalty for football players who aim at an opponent’s head or neck — especially with intent that exceeds a legal tackle or block. In the past, the punishment was a 15-yard penalty. Continue reading

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