The skinny post is a pass route UCLA receiver Junior Taylor has run thousands of times before. But at the start of training camp, Taylor’s favorite pattern seemed strange to him.
Every time the senior ran it, something just wasn’t right. Even when he caught the ball, the timing always seemed a little off. Taylor never wanted to blame his surgically repaired knee, but he knew it was the source of his problems.
“Yeah, I had some tough days, but I fought through it,” said Taylor, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Oklahoma, in UCLA’s third game of last season. “In the beginning, I had to get used to the speed of the play on the field; that was hard to do. And I also had trouble making certain cuts.
“But the more I worked, the easier those things became. That’s why I was out here every day. I knew that [camp] would be the hardest part.”
At times, as he labored through practices, Taylor seemed as if he had lost the spring in his step for good. But after a little rest, he usually responded with a stronger effort the next day.
“I’m still getting strength back,” Taylor said. “It hasn’t even been a year yet since I suffered the injury. The knee is good enough to play, but I know it’s going to be another year before I’ll be completely feeling right again.”
A less-than-100% Taylor is still a very good receiver, and Coach Karl Dorrell said he earned the starting split end job in training camp.
“He wasn’t looking great early, but at this point in time he looks very close to where he was before his injury,” Dorrell said about Taylor, who is 20th on the school’s career reception list with 78. “He’s really come along.”
With fellow senior Joe Cowan out for Saturday’s game against Utah because of a knee injury, Taylor’s veteran presence will be important for Ben Olson, the new starter at quarterback. Taylor may not have his old burst of speed, but he’s still cagey.
“You don’t have to be the fastest guy in the world to be a good receiver,” Olson said. “You just need to know how to get open and catch the ball. Junior has proven that he can do both of those things.”
After a summer of grueling rehabilitation, Taylor is excited to have UCLA’s season opener finally here.
“I know I’ll be 100% for that,” he said. “My knee feels great now and it will feel even better for the game.”
With senior J.J. Hair back in the mix, UCLA will feature three tight ends against Utah. Sophomore Logan Paulsen is expected to start, but he’ll share time with sophomore Ryan Moya and Hair, who returned to practice this week after being sidelined because of a foot injury.
“He’s been here and he’s taken the most snaps in camp,” Dorrell said about Paulsen, who caught two passes for 33 yards last season. “He’s done everything and he’s proven that he should be the guy.”
Dorrell on Moya, who has been slowed because of a hamstring injury: “He’s kind of getting back into the flow of things. He’s ... the most skillful [tight end] we have, and he’s done a nice job there.... He will get a chance to help.”
Hair, who backed up Marcedes Lewis last season, is the best blocker of the three.
Senior linebacker Eric McNeal may not be eligible for the opener because of an academic problem.... The first 10,000 fans in attendance Saturday will receive a UCLA poster.