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UCLA might be looking to receiver Mossi Johnson against Colorado

UCLA wide receiver Mossi Johnson runs after making a catch during the Bruins' loss to Oregon on Oct. 11.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

It has been a modest start.

UCLA receiver Mossi Johnson opened eyes in spring practice with his receiving skills and elusiveness. Since the season began, he has had just six receptions for 58 yards.

Johnson could be ready to take a leap forward.

The Bruins played without starting slot Thomas Duarte for three quarters in a 36-34 victory over California last weekend. His status remains questionable for Saturday’s game at Colorado, leaving Johnson, a freshman, as the next man up.

“I was so impressed with the way Mossi played,” Coach Jim Mora said. “Mossi has been showing that. It started with special teams, with the things he did there, and his role keeps expanding.”

Johnson had four receptions for 30 yards against California. He also had a six-yard gain on a reverse. Where he really took off was on special teams. His 67-yard kickoff return in the third quarter set up a field goal.

The Bruins may need more from him against Colorado.

Duarte was at practice Tuesday, but was restricted to light individual drills. He missed two weeks of training camp after suffering a hamstring injury.

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The Bruins had counted on Duarte to be a prominent receiver this season, and he has at times. His size (6 feet 3, 225 pounds) and speed were an offensive coordinator’s dream and a defensive coordinator’s nightmare.

“When a safety gets on him, it’s a tough matchup size-wise,” Mora said. “When a linebacker gets on him, it’s a tough matchup speed-wise.”

Mora, who says little about injuries, put Duarte in his “we’ll see on Saturday” category.

Johnson was more of a downfield threat at Crenshaw High, but said, “I can adapt to anything.”

Johnson gives defenses a different look than Duarte does.

“I’m probably quicker,” Johnson said. “He’s more of a technique guy. What I like about slot is they give us more bubbles, where we can find our own route.”

Johnson also does the little things that can keep him on the field.

“I like his athletic arrogance,” receivers coach Eric Yarber said. “He feels like he is best out there. He never gives up on anything. As soon as one of his teammates catches the ball, he’s like a pit bull going there to block.”

New look

The Bruins had their best day of the season at pressuring a quarterback, finishing with three sacks and a handful of meaningful hits on California’s Jared Goff.

Bruins defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa spent time in the interior of the defensive line with Takkarist McKinley next to him on the edge.

“You try to get your most explosive pass rushers on the field at the same time. Sometimes that demands that you move guys around a little bit,” Mora said.

Odighizuwa sacked Goff once and batted down a pass.

Defensive line coach Angus McClure said the new look “gives us a lot more speed, not only internally moving Owa inside, but having Tak on the outside. On the other side is Deon Hollins. That’s a lot of speed to deal with.”

Triage Tuesday

Mora’s injury report after practice was brief.

On running back Paul Perkins, who injured his right wrist: “He’s doing well,” Mora said.

Cornerback Fabian Moreau, who suffered a “stinger”? “Fabian is doing well,”

Simon Goines, who is recovering from knee surgery? “Doing well, doing great, doing good.”

Asked how he was doing, Mora said, “Doing well, doing great.”

Later, Mora admitted to having a sore hamstring, but said he would be able to get up and down the sideline Saturday.

Moreau and Perkins are expected to play. Goines and guard Alex Redmond (ankle) remain questionable.


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