UCLA received good news on the injury front Tuesday when defensive backs Ishmael Adams and Priest Willis returned to practice.
Then the news took a downturn.
Receiver Thomas Duarte hobbled off the field and headed to the locker room with an injured left leg. His status for Friday’s game against Stanford — which will determine whether UCLA will play for the Pac-12 Conference championship — was not immediately known.
Losing Duarte would be a significant blow to the Bruins’ offense. At 6 feet 3, 225 pounds, he is too big and strong for many defensive backs to handle, and he has the speed to run away from linebackers.
“He is so important to us,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. “He has excellent ball skills, and that’s big for us. He is an inside guy that causes matchup problems.”
Duarte made a big contribution toward UCLA’s 38-20 victory over USC last Saturday. He caught a pass in stride 20 yards downfield and split the secondary on a 57-yard touchdown play. He also made an acrobatic 38-yard reception along the sideline in the third quarter that set up another touchdown.
Duarte has had injury issues this season. He missed most of training camp with a sore hamstring. He reinjured the hamstring in the first quarter against California and missed the next two games.
Duarte has 23 receptions and is averaging 19.9 yards a catch this season. He has three touchdowns.
Adams and Willis both completed a full practice.
Adams suffered an ankle injury against USC and was limited to individual drills Monday, leaving that practice early to receive treatment.
Willis suffered what Coach Jim Mora described as “head trauma” against USC. He was not at practice Monday.
There is no doubt the Bruins are going to miss Eric Kendricks after this season. The senior linebacker has made more than 100 tackles for a third consecutive season and is a finalist for the Butkus Award, which is given to college football’s outstanding linebacker.
But waiting in the wings is freshman Kenny Young.
“Kenny has done everything right this year,” Kendricks said. “He’s a freshman and this is a tough conference. He has handled it.”
Kendricks has been doing his part to tutor Young.
“I talk with him in practice: ‘Are you doing this? Are you seeing this? You need a little more depth here,’” Kendricks said. “I feel he’s listening to me and applies what I tell him.”
Young, who made a big splash during training camp, has worked through the growing pains that come with games. He has made 30 tackles.
“My ability to step up do things Coach has asked me to do, the small things such as being in film room a little more, has improved,” said the 6-2, 225-pound Young. “It’s been a process since August.”
Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery will not play against UCLA, Cardinal Coach David Shaw said. He suffered a shoulder injury against California on Saturday.
Montgomery is the Cardinal’s most dangerous offensive player. He has 61 receptions for 604 yards and has gained 179 yards rushing. He averages 19.8 yards on punt returns and 25.2 yards on kickoff returns. He has scored five touchdowns, two on punt returns.
“He does a lot things for them,” UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said before hearing that Montgomery was out. “We’re preparing as if he’s going play. If he’s not playing, I’m sure they will have another guy who plays a similar role for them.”
Quarterback Brett Hundley has repeatedly said that he will declare for the next NFL draft, and UCLA officials are allowing him to participate in the Senior Day ceremony before the Stanford game.
Hundley is a junior in athletic eligibility, but he is a senior academically. He sat out his freshman year as a redshirt. He already has earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
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