UCLA cornerback Ishmael Adams sees opportunity in an opponent's eyes on punt returns.
"The first guy is flying straight at you," Adams said. "Make him stop his feet, look straight at the eyes. That's one way to get them where they don't know where you're going. Once you get them in the eyes, you explode."
Adams will get more stare-down opportunities this season.
The Bruins began working on punt returns Saturday. Adams looks as flashy as he did late last season, when he was finally allowed to return kicks.
"He's strong, he has really good vision and he likes to do it," said Coach Jim Mora.
Mora knew that last season. But he was reluctant to dangle Adams, a starting cornerback, before headhunters. When he did, Adams excelled.
Adams had a 49-yard return against Arizona State.
A UCLA player hasn't returned a punt for a touchdown since Maurice Jones-Drew went 81 yards against California in 2005.
"I have pondered that ever since I missed that opportunity against Arizona State," Adams said. "My biggest goal is to take one back this year."
He will have the opportunity.
The combination of improved depth at cornerback and the desire to get more out of a punt return team that averaged 8.9 yards per game in 2013 made Adams a necessity.
"I am always a little bit skeptical to use a starting receiver or defensive back as a punt returner," Mora said. "But we got depth and Ish has special skills back there. Typically on punt returns, you don't get a lot of high impact collisions."
Adams also had kickoff returns of 69 yards against Arizona State and 47 yards against USC last season. That duty is too dangerous to risk a starting cornerback, Mora said.
But punt returns were "probably the worst part of our special teams last year," Mora said and it needed to improve. So he shipped assistant coach Mike Tuiasosopo to North Carolina to do some recon work.
The Tar Heels averaged 18.1 yards to lead the nation. Much of that work was done by Ryan Switzer, who averaged 20.9 yards a return, five of which he took back for touchdowns.
"We'll incorporate some of their stuff," Mora said. "If we can add a first down to every punt return before the offense has to go on the field, that'll make a big difference to us."
Adams seems the guy to do it, though he said it is not a solo act.
"I got great guys doing the work in front of me," he said.
Still, he said, "I know I'll have to make one guy miss."
Adams laughed and said, "You never, never let the punter tackle you."
Depth in the secondary had Adarius Pickett playing running back as of Saturday.
"The way the depth is at defensive back, I don't know if he would get in the rotation," Mora said. "Running back is a spot where we're looking for some depth, and someone who can have an impact."
Pickett gained more than 1,800 yards and scored 31 touchdowns as a senior at El Cerrito High last fall.
Mora said that when defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin told him of the move, Pickett's reply was, "I'll leave here the starter."
"That was not in an arrogant way, but a determined type of way," Mora said.
Tackle Simon Goines underwent surgery on his ankle to remove bone spurs Friday. "I told him he needs to have the mind-set to be ready to go in the third game of the year," Mora said. "We don't want to redshirt him. We want him to play." … Receiver Sam Handler suffered a torn ligament in his left knee Friday and will sit out the season. … Linebacker Cameron Griffin probably will need surgery on his left shoulder. … The Bruins held their first two-a-days Saturday and will be off Sunday. They will spend the day at Bruins Woods in Lake Arrowhead.
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