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UCLA Sports

UCLA is deep with receivers, but group lacks experience

UCLA trying out several receivers
Receivers Eldridge Massington (82) and Kenneth Walker III (10) are competing for starting spots during UCLA’s training camp.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Kenneth Walker III, blessed with a sprinter’s speed, is UCLA’s fastest receiver. Alex Van Dyke, standing 6 feet 4, is the tallest. Ishmael Adams, at 5-8, is easily the smallest.

The best? That’s to be determined.

The Bruins possess a slew of candidates to claim that distinction. While depth isn’t an issue, experience is. The team returns only a handful of part-time starters from last season and must replace four of its top five pass catchers, including running back Paul Perkins.

The receivers got some prep work before training camp during informal practice sessions organized by quarterback Josh Rosen. Pretty much everyone showed up at a campus practice field twice a week to run routes from the new playbook and develop timing with Rosen.

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The chemistry has carried over to training camp. Walker, Van Dyke, Adams, Eldridge Massington, Mossi Johnson and Darren Andrews have made a handful of highlight plays against a secondary that figures to be one of the best in the Pac-12 Conference. Tight end Nate Iese and fullback Ainuu Taua have also shown they could be capable receivers.

Walker has displayed the speed that helped him run the 100 meters in 10.66 seconds at the Pac-12 championships, earning sixth place. His feet aren’t a concern but his hands might be. Walker acknowledged holding onto the ball and building confidence remained issues.

“Just telling myself that you can play [at] this level,” Walker said. “And if you want to go to the next level, then you have to be able to catch the ball.”

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Van Dyke, once nicknamed “Bambi” because he stumbled in his routes, has graduated to “Buck” after strengthening his legs and becoming more fluid. He said he was striving to become the most consistent receiver in the group.

Walker predicted that freshman Theo Howard would develop into a top receiver this season, though Howard has been slowed by a strained hamstring over the last week.

“He has huge hands, he can catch, he has a huge radius and his route-running is phenomenal,” Walker said. “If I would have come in like that, it would have been a whole different story.”

Andrews possesses the best statistics among the returners from last season, having caught 43 passes for 443 yards and one touchdown. He’ll have to prove himself anew starting with the season opener Sept. 3 against Texas A&M.

“We’re all good receivers,” Van Dyke said. “Anybody can step up and be the best any day.”

Getting chippy

The first major scuffle of camp broke out during the morning practice when defensive end Takkarist McKinley and offensive tackle Kolton Miller took a few swings at each other after grappling at the line of scrimmage. Coach Jim Mora immediately ejected both players.

McKinley complained about taking hands to the face as he walked off the field.

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“Every [expletive] play,” McKinley yelled repeatedly before lingering on an adjacent field with a football staff member who tried to calm him.

Mora used the fight as a teaching moment.

“We just lost one of our best players on each side of the ball because we have no discipline,” Mora told players.

Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley indicated later that McKinley had lost his composure while the offense was working on a two-minute drill.

“Given that situation, backed up like that, you’ve got the game on the line in a fourth and 16 and we punch somebody, [it’s an] automatic first down,” Bradley said. “Not good.”

Maintaining poise is a theme coaches continue to preach to a team that has been among the most penalized in the nation the last four seasons.

“We have to constantly talk about it to the point that we’re kind of annoying about every little thing,” Bradley said. “Eventually, as they get going, if you nitpick it enough they’re going to get tired of listening to you and they’ll go start to pick it up.”

Quick hits

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Eldridge was treated for a heat-related issue at the end of the morning practice. … Linebacker Mique Juarez missed a fifth consecutive day of practice with an excused absence. … Former UCLA punter Adam Searl will not face charges in connection with an alleged sexual assault in 2014 because of a lack of evidence, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office said.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch


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