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UCLA considers moving Kenneth Walker III from receiver to punter

UCLA considers moving Kenneth Walker III from receiver to punter
Arizona State's Jordan Simone, right, tackles UCLA's Kenneth Walker III during the first half of a game on Oct. 3. (Mark J. Terrill / AP)

Kenneth Walker III was just goofing off, kicking a ball around after a UCLA practice. There was no real reason for the junior receiver to think he was being watched.

But the Bruins have some issues with punting. Matt Mengel is averaging 38.0 yards per kick, and just when it looked like his backup might take over the duties, Adam Searl was arrested for suspicion of sexual assault.

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Which is why, while Walker thought he was messing around, Chris Caminiti, UCLA's special teams analyst, was taking note.

"I was just going out kicking the ball, doing weird stuff, and he said, 'You have a strong leg. You ought to do something with it,'" Walker recalled.

Turns out, Walker is experienced. Besides being a star receiver at Richmond (Calif.) Kennedy High, Walker also was the punter.

"I love getting back to it," he said. "It's something I like to do so I'm out here practicing and getting better. I'm down to do whatever to help this team win."

Of course, with Walker's speed, he could always just take off with the ball rather than kick it.

"That would be tempting," he said. "But the first thing I have to do is my assignment."

His time may be coming. The Bruins are considering their options. Only one of Mengel's six punts during UCLA's loss to Stanford last week was longer than 39 yards.

"I know Matt is working very, very hard to get better," Coach Jim Mora said. "He works and he works. Maybe he overworks. He's one of those kids who is so conscientious that maybe we need to try to calm him down."

Or replace him.

"We might have a trick up our sleeve," Mora said. "We'll help Matt along, keep helping him improve. As we do that, we'll try to develop other options if we need them."

Secondary concerns

UCLA defensive backs were not made available to reporters for a second consecutive day. However, they did get in some extra running after practice.

On Thursday, the group will face California quarterback Jared Goff, generally considered by scouts to be the top NFL prospect among Pac-12 Conference quarterbacks.

Goff's quarterback efficiency rating of 157.1 ranks 15th nationally.

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"They do a lot of things that are difficult to defend," UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "They have great receivers. They have a heck of a quarterback. We'll have our hands full."

The 20th-ranked Bears are averaging 40.2 points per game, 12th nationally.

While UCLA's defense is trying to keep up, the offense could open things up for freshman quarterback Josh Rosen.

Rosen passed for 325 yards and two touchdowns against Stanford but also had two passes intercepted, one returned for a touchdown.

"I think he's getting a little closer," offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said.

Goff has been in Rosen's shoes. He started for the Bears directly out of high school, just as Rosen is doing for the Bruins.

"I have no idea what their situation is down there, how he's being treated," Goff said. "He has done pretty well so far from what I've seen."

Extra point

UCLA and Colorado will kickoff at noon on Oct. 31 at the Rose Bowl in a game televised by Pac-12 Networks.

Follow Chris Foster on Twitter @cfosterlatimes

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