Freshman Thomas Duarte a potential spark to Y-receiver corps


This was last year’s red-zone motto for UCLA: “Put it on the top shelf where the kids can’t get it.”

Easy to do when your target is 6-foot-7. Joseph Fauria led the Bruins with 12 touchdown catches, the most for any tight end in the country. When Brett Hundley needed a safety valve as a first-year starter, he most often looked to the Mackey Award semifinalist.

Entering head coach Jim Mora’s second season, UCLA’s tight ends – better termed as Y-receivers in the Bruins’ fast-paced offense – don’t stick out nearly as much. Seniors Darius Bell and Grayson Mazzone are 5-foot-11 and 5-foot-8, respectively. Nate Iese and Jordan Barrett both measure at least 6-foot-2, but will likely be used more as blockers.

The difference maker could be true freshman Thomas Duarte, a prized 6-foot-3 recruit out of Mater Dei High. Named the Orange County Register’s Player of the Year as well as to the MaxPreps all-state team, his No. 18 jersey was retired in March alongside former USC quarterback Matt Barkley’s. UCLA coaches and teammates already point out Duarte’s wide passing radius and smooth game. Continue reading

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Father’s Day: What makes a coach’s son?

For Father’s Day, a short read on what it’s like to grow up as a coach’s son — as it was first published in late November. (Taylor Mazzone has since been promoted to quarterbacks coach, after initially replacing Marques Tuiasosopo as Y receivers coach.)
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Taylor Mazzone has a vision. A beautiful home in a football- crazed town, a wife and kids, and a bit of job security.

Simple conditions, but difficult to come by when you’re vying to become a football coach. Mazzone, a UCLA graduate assistant, is no stranger to the profession’s winding path, the packing boxes and new ZIP Codes. After all, he’s a coach’s son. Continue reading

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UCLA misses on No. 1 QB Kyle Allen

UCLA put the full-court press on Kyle Allen, but couldn’t close the deal as the No. 1-rated pro-style quarterback picked Texas A&M. The Desert Mountain (Scottsdale, Ariz.) star also had Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma State.

The Bruins, thought to be the leaders for Allen, now face a tough task in landing a 2014 quarterback: Manny Wilkins and Brad Kaaya were the next targets on the list, but they’ve since verballed to Arizona State and Miami, respectively.

The top uncommitted pro-style quarterback according to Rivals.com rankings is now Palo Alto’s Keller Chryst, whose top four is Stanford, USC, Alabama and Pitt.

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UCLA football post-spring: Offense

Quarterback

Be happy that you have one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. Brett Hundley isn’t flawless, but not many players in the country have the same level of tantalizing potential. (I don’t think he’ll leave, but if Hundley declares for the 2014 draft, SI already has him as the No. 8 pick.)

A superlative freshman campaign — 3,745 yards, 29 touchdowns against 11 picks — proved that the 6-foot-3 dual threat is the quarterback the Bruins have long sought. Perhaps the biggest knock on him was his decision-making, whether that meant not throwing the ball away when he needed to or not sliding at the right time. In spring, he looked like he corrected some of that, drawing cheers from his teammates once when he slid on a scramble.

He also took 52 sacks last season — second-most in college football, and something that did start to affect him later in the fall. Continue reading

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Wednesday practice notes: Evans besting Adams

Cornerback Ishmael Adams was one of UCLA’s week-one stars, but has struggled more recently. Shaq Evans, in particular, seems to have made it his mission to abuse Adams after giving the redshirt freshman an earful of trash talk last week. On Wednesday, Evans’ best play was a tipped pass to himself for a score.

Adams should still be fine, but his lack of size is showing. He has also spent all of spring in a red jersey, but defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin said Adams could play a game now if necessary.

Evans, meanwhile, should figure to be a bigger red-zone target this season. Receivers coach Eric Yarber also said this about the senior: “I need him to be one of the leaders of the team. Even last year, all these young kids looked up to Shaq. If Shaq wasn’t having a good day, it was almost like the whole group wasn’t having a good day.”

» Jordan Payton likely remains ahead of Devin Lucien on the receiver depth chart heading into summer camp. Payton made a nice catch on Wednesday while double-covered by Anthony Jefferson and Dietrich Riley. Riley was consistently beaten in pass coverage, which may or may not be due to injury rust.

» Eldridge Massington is still rehabbing his ACL tear. He had a minor setback last week, but the main obstacle will likely be more mental than physical. Continue reading

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Jim Mora: UCLA’s Devin Fuller in ‘mold of Percy Harvin’

At what point does hope trend into fantasy? Praise into hyperbole? On the topic of rising sophomore Devin Fuller, Jim Mora ventured this week into that hazy, indeterminate zone.

“I think I’ve said this before and it’s not fair to either guy, but I think he’s in the mold of a Percy Harvin,” the UCLA head coach said. “A guy that can play running back if you need him to, can play slot, can go outside.”

Fuller still has a ways to go before he reaches the same tier as Harvin — an eventual Pro Bowler who had over 3,500 all-purpose yards in three years at Florida — but the suggestion isn’t outlandish, ceiling-wise. Since arriving at UCLA as a quarterback who then turned into a 145-yard receiver, he has proved himself to be one of the most impressive Bruins in spring camp (This becomes especially true if you’re looking for someone that’s not an established star.) Continue reading

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Taylor Mazzone named Y receivers coach

Graduate assistant Taylor Mazzone will be promoted to the Y receivers coaching spot vacated by Marques Tuiasosopo. The news was first reported yesterday on Twitter by FootballScoop.

“A lot of excitement and anxiousness,” Mazzone said of his feelings upon hearing the news. “I’ve been waiting for quite a while. This is a great opportunity at a great university. Coaching in the Pac-12 for my first job is unbelievable.”

The son of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, Taylor worked previously as a graduate assistant at Arizona State, where he helped groom quarterback Brock Osweiler. He has also worked with Tim Tebow and Christian Ponder; he and his father have been credited for helping the latter become the No. 12 overall pick in 2011 NFL Draft.

Head coach Jim Mora told Mazzone after the Holiday Bowl that a position could be available for him if someone from the staff leaves. Two days after the Bruins’ 49-26 loss to Baylor, Washington officially announced that it had hired Tuiasosopo as its new quarterbacks coach. Tuiasosopo had led the Huskies to a Rose Bowl victory over a decade ago. Continue reading

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Stanford 35, UCLA 17: Early Takeaways

Stanford thoroughly beat the Bruins Saturday night. That it felt disappointing shows how far Jim Mora has taken the program in a year; few are pointing to a nine-win season (first since 2005!) as solace.

With the Pac-12 Championship up next, the Bruins should at least be more energetic, something players brought up as an issue. There’s no emotional exhaustion from a big win and nothing to look forward to. Some other hurdles facing UCLA before the Stanford rematch:

Stanford’s offensive line: The main talk throughout the weak was the fearsome Cardinal defense. The front seven certainly harassed the Bruins all night, keeping both the run and pass in check, but also troubling was how little UCLA could do on defense. Jim Mora had said earlier this week that the game could rest on UCLA’s defense and special teams — on Saturday, neither showed up particularly well.

Stanford’s offensive line absolutely had its way with the Bruins. Even when facing a stacked box, the Cardinal created great seams for tailback Stepfan Taylor. The senior rusher’s two-touchdown night included runs of 40 and 49 yards. Even Anthony Wilkerson, who scored his first touchdown of the season on Saturday, churned out a season-high 48 yards.

“They’re more of a get-in-your-face, try-to-bully-you offensive line,” said linebacker Anthony Barr, who had nine tackles and knocked punter Daniel Zychlinski out of the game. “They’re not as athletic as some offensive lines, but they just use their size to get in your way and try to push you out of the way.”

UCLA tried some defensive adjustments, such as putting Owamagbe Odighizuwa in as an extra lineman, but still couldn’t do much against the Cardinal as they plowed open running lane after running lane. This is likely the hardest fix for the Bruins through a short week of practice.

Consequential penalties: Mora said this week that he wasn’t concerned about the Bruins’ penalty problems, citing a weak correlation between flags and losses. Just looking at UCLA’s 12 penalties for 135 yards on Saturday, one would be inclined to disagree. On the other hand, the Bruins were 5-0 when losing triple-digit penalty yards until this weekend.

The difference is that Stanford is better than any other team UCLA has played this season, and the penalties also came at some of the most inopportune times. There was the especially brutal flag that erased Jordan Zumwalt’s interception, as well as smaller frustrations like fifth-year senior Jeff Baca’s personal foul that backed up an extra point. Johnathan Franklin, 65 yards and a touchdown, likely could have hit triple-digit rushing yards had all the flags disappeared.

“Most of it was just a lot of self-inflicted wounds on our part,” said offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. “You’ve got to make some plays.”

After most games this season, players have said the penalties will get fixed. No sign that will actually happen with a short week ahead, so don’t be surprised if some big ones cost UCLA on Friday.

Hundley’s flaws: Brett Hundley was sacked seven times, which helped erase his 38 yards of rushing gains to exactly zero. On the Bruins’ second drive, he was nearly tripped up in the end zone, but stumbled to the six to avoid the safety. That play, among others, was a moment where Hundley really should have just thrown the ball away. He can be excused for having one bad game out of five, but UCLA needs him to be nearly perfect on Friday if it wants to beat Stanford.

“Did I really think he was going to start four weeks ago and go four years of never having one of those games?” Mazzone said. “No. It happens. Turn on the TV on Sunday. There’s guys that have been in the league 13 years and have days like that.

“What’s that old song, ‘Strange Days’? ‘Mama Said There’d Be Days Like These’?” Well, today was one of those days.

Thigpen’s absence: Damien Thigpen’s absence was most glaring on Kenneth Walker’s kick return fumble-turned-touchdown — stretching the Stanford lead to 35-10 midway through the third quarter. On offense, that meant no two-back sets and no legitimate option besides Johnathan Franklin. The only real reinforcement coming there is Steven Manfro, who could take some carries but is still recovery from an ankle injury. This, again, puts some pressure on Hundley to be flawless, especially when Jet is resting.

Coaching showdown: Mora should be named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year, but David Shaw was last year’s winner for a reason. The man might not be the most creative or daring playcaller, but he oversaw a seamless transition out of the Harbaugh era, as well as a remarkable mid-season quarterback switch. Shaw’s the main reason that the Cardinal are vying for a third straight BCS bowl, even without Andrew Luck.

Nothing can take the shine off what Mora has already accomplished, but a win over Shaw would add some extra punch to an already stellar first year. Mora denied holding back any part of his playbook, but if he did, it would certainly make for a more interesting game on Friday.

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