UCLA wraps up spring practice with new offense and receivers
LOS ANGELES (AP) Jim Mora will not put a name on UCLA's new offense, but the coach does have a few names in mind for replacing three of the Bruins' most productive wide receivers.
While much of the focus has been on the transition from a spread attack to one that will operate under center and use tight ends and fullbacks, replacing departed receivers Jordan Payton, Thomas Duarte and Devin Fuller was a main goal for UCLA during spring practice.
Payton graduated as the school's career receptions leader, while Duarte entered the NFL draft after catching 10 touchdown passes last season. The steady trio made quarterback Josh Rosen's transition as a freshman starter considerably easier.
As the Bruins held their final practice Saturday, eschewing a game format and instead holding an open workout, Mora admitted replacing Payton, Duarte and Fuller remains a doubt.
''Over the course of their career here, they were some of the all-timers, so there is a question there,'' Mora said.
One potential option is speedy senior Kenneth Walker III. Walker was the target on Rosen's first collegiate pass attempt, getting behind the Virginia secondary on a deep post for what should have been a 75-yard touchdown, if not for Walker's drop.
Inconsistent hands have long been the knock against Walker, but it was not an issue on a long over-the-shoulder catch from Rosen during 7-on-7 drills.
Walker added a touchdown catch in the final team period, coming back for a ball that Rosen threw across his body while rolling right.
Redshirt junior Eldridge Massington credits Walker's newfound confidence for the improvement, as the teammates have worked together to catch 600-700 passes every day.
''That's all we do,'' Massington said. ''We come to the locker room and just throw the ball at each other. We go outside, throw the ball walking around campus, doing little stuff like that.''
Despite catching only 23 passes in his career, four of those receptions covered at least 57 yards. With Rosen's arm strength and more opportunities for play-action passes in the new scheme, Mora believes Walker could emerge as a breakout star in his final season.
''To me, he could be one of the surprises in the country this year,'' Mora said. ''I know that is probably a really, really big statement to make, but I've just got a gut feeling about the kid.''
Another candidate is already a known quantity, albeit on the UCLA defense.
Ishmael Adams earned first-team All-Pac-12 recognition in 2014 at cornerback, but an August arrest and impressive depth at defensive back saw him reduced to a limited role last season. Mora moved Adams to slot receiver this spring, hoping to feature the game-breaking talent of a player who has already scored on three career interceptions and one kick return.
Massington is glad to have Adams, a notorious trash-talker, on his side instead of lining up against him in practice. Rosen pointed to how effectively Adams has been able to put his defensive background to work on offense.
''He's got really strong hands and really attacks the ball,'' Rosen said. ''He's catching the ball from all different weird angles on defense, and now the ball is actually supposed to go to him, and he is thrilled.''
Asked if he wants Adams to stay at receiver, Rosen replied, ''One hundred percent. He is not going anywhere.''