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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UCLA spring camp notes: Marcus Rios improving at cornerback

— UCLA held its fifth spring practice this morning at Spaulding Field, and Marcus Rios made a strong case for the day’s best play. During 11-on-11 scrimmages, the cornerback tipped Jerry Neuheisel’s pass into the air, and contorted himself to secure the interception.

It was the latest moment in what has been a solid camp so far for the redshirt sophomore — made even more impressive by the fact that he fought off a life-threatening fungal infection less than two years ago. He wasn’t 100 percent even last season, when he came up with a game-saving interception in a win at Cal.

Another offseason should give him even more time to improve his conditioning and hone his skills. He’s already a firm part of the two-deep right now, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him eventually push for a starting spot at cornerback.

— The Bruins continue to structure practices by giving two quarterbacks team reps each day. Today, the rotation gave way to Neuheisel on the first-string offense and Asiantii Woulard behind him. Neither has changed significantly through the course of spring camp, with Neuheisel’s lack of arm strength looking like a factor that could severely hamper him in the race to become starter. Continue reading

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Jordan Payton confirms he will return to UCLA for senior year

Jordan Payton confirmed on Saturday that he will return to UCLA as a senior next season, ending talk of him potentially declaring for the NFL draft.

“I’m coming back,” Payton told reporters after practice. “There were reports saying that I was leaving or something, but I’m coming back. Didn’t really even think about leaving, to be honest with you.”

Payton was not projected to be a high draft pick, but ranks seventh in the Pac-12 with 896 receiving yards and 10th with seven touchdown catches. A polished wideout who excels at gaining yards after the catch, the junior is responsible for more than a fifth of the Bruins’ receptions this season.

With the Alamo Bowl left to play on Jan. 2, he has a shot to become UCLA’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Nelson Rosario had 1,161 in 2011.

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