UCLA’s Josh Smith waiting to be unleashed
UCLA’s Josh Smith has been waiting for his chance to break loose, but the talented wide receiver and kick returner has been bottled up — by Bruins coaches.
“They’re waiting for me to do something, and I feel like I’m waiting for the opportunity to do something,” said Smith, a transfer from Colorado.
Smith’s lack of opportunity has left one of UCLA’s most explosive players an unknown heading into Saturday’s game at Texas. The Austin American-Statesman published a blog post this week headlined: “Darrell Scott’s uncle to face Horns.”
Scott and his uncle played at Colorado, where Smith averaged 19 yards per catch as a freshman and was third in the Big 12 Conference with 1,987 all-purpose yards as a sophomore.
But Smith has one reception for eight yards this season and was rarely seen in the game against Houston on Saturday. He has returned kickoffs but has yet to field a punt.
Coach Rick Neuheisel, when asked about Smith’s diminished role, painted with broad strokes, saying, “We have a number of talented guys that we would like to get involved with the offense. We’ll continue to explore ways to create more options for guys to have the ball in their arms.”
Pressed on what is holding Smith back, Neuheisel pointed to injuries, as Smith missed most of spring practice with a knee injury and sat out a week with a groin problem during summer training camp.
Smith showed health wasn’t an issue against Kansas State with a 43-yard run on a reverse.
But Neuheisel said: “We want to make sure Josh is up to speed mentally with knowing all the assignments. Until we’re dead-set sure that he knows what he’s doing, it’s hard to have the confidence to put him in there.”
Smith admitted that, “I’m a little bit behind,” but the mental part of returning punts is pretty simple: catch and run in the direction of the blocking.
The Bruins have gone with Taylor Embree on punt returns. Embree is the safe, sure-handed choice, Neuheisel has said, but does not possess breakaway speed.
“On a daily basis, I’m trying to develop that trust, let them know that I’m ready to go whenever they are ready to unleash me,” Smith said.
Tackle Micah Kia, limited because of an ankle injury, practiced little during the week. Mike Harris is expected to start. … Running back Derrick Coleman (concussion) went through workouts for a second consecutive day, but Johnathan Franklin is expected to start. ... UCLA defensive line coach Todd Howard, who played (1983-86) and coached (1991-93) at Texas A&M, has won six of seven games against Texas. “I’ve been telling my guys all week that I’ve won six in a row,” Howard said. … Texas has not lost a nonconference regular-season game since being beaten by No. 1-ranked Ohio State in 2006.