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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Spring notes: Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich relishes breaking up scuffles


– Thursday’s practice featured a fight that started, as usual, when a few receivers and defensive backs got in each other’s faces. The main culprits: Jalen Ortiz and Tyler Scott on offense, and Ishmael Adams and Tahaan Goodman on defense.

Head coach Jim Mora stopped practice to admonish the team as a whole. Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich talked a bit about managing player emotions, but actually sort of enjoyed jumping in and pulling players apart.

“It brings me back to my playing days,” he said. “I kind of like it. Maybe too much. The potential of someone hitting me … it was awesome.”

– Ulbrich also said that the experiment of putting Zach Whitley at outside linebacker is over. The four-star early enrollee looks far more comfortable inside, where he has returned since missing Monday’s practice due to a bruise.

“It was a thing where, we thought he could maybe compete outside and that might be the best situation for our defense,” he said. “I don’t think that’s true anymore.” Continue reading

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UCLA-USC feature roundup: Larimore and life after football

patrick larimore

For rivalry week, the Los Angeles Daily News published a number of features covering both sides. My biggest piece ran on Thanksgiving, looking at former UCLA linebacker Patrick Larimore and how he has dealt with his post-concussion symptoms since retiring from football:

Nearly four months have elapsed since his PR rep first reached out by email. Mismatching schedules delayed the interview, but so too did a bad stretch of post-concussion symptoms.

Asked if he’s feeling OK right now, Larimore smiles a little.

“What do you mean by OK?”

Although his health is a constant work-in-progress, the Bruins’ former defensive MVP has busied himself with creating MyHeadHurts.co, a shared space for brain injury victims of all kinds.

Some of the other stories we ran this week …
– An amusing rundown of the pros and cons of USC hiring Ed Orgeron as its full-time coach.
– USC quarterback Cody Kessler tries not to take anything for granted.
– UCLA tight end/receiver Thomas Duarte is proud of his Japanese/Mexican heritage.
– Lakers guards Jordan Farmar and Nick Young are great friends despite going to rival schools.
– A brief overview of the UCLA-USC rivalry and its most memorable moments, plus things to do before and after the game.

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UCLA 37, Cal 10: Y-receiver Thomas Duarte


True freshman Thomas Duarte had the biggest of night of his career Saturday, grabbing three passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. His score came in style too, a leaping 27-yard catch that gave UCLA a 24-10 lead just before halftime.

“It’s indescribable,” he said of the touchdown. “I can’t put it in words for you. Just to know that I’m helping my team to this victory, it’s amazing. … I caught it and 90,000 fans went crazy.”

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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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Fall camp preview: Wide receivers/tight ends

UCLA lost a 6-foot-7 target in tight end Joseph Fauria, but quarterback Brett Hundley shouldn’t have hard time finding capable pass-catchers. Although the Bruins return only one player who caught for more than 300 yards last season, they have a deep, young group with plenty of upside.

Key returners: Shaq Evans enters his senior season as one of the conference’s better receivers. A stable presence for UCLA both as a route-runner and blocker, he should be in line for more red-zone targets in addition to building on his 800-yard junior campaign.

Opposite Evans will be sophomore Jordan Payton, a thick-bodied target who displayed good hands almost every spring practice. Redshirt sophomore Devin Lucien is more physically gifted than Payton, but isn’t as consistent. Continue reading

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Thomas Duarte commits to UCLA

Mater Dei star Thomas Duarte committed to the Bruins Friday night at the Semper Fi All-American Bowl in Carson. UCLA beat out USC, Oregon, Washington and Notre Dame for the four-star tight end/receiver, who figures to play right away next fall. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound target is a crucial commitment for the Bruins considering that the loss of senior Joe Fauria. His main competition at Y receiver next year will be Darius Bell and Ian Taubler, and he has a decent shot at winning out.

The Bruins missed out on Long Beach product John Ross, a receiver rated four stars by Scout and three stars by Rivals. He picked up a Washington hat at the game.

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