Ishmael Adams sprinted off the line of scrimmage, found some separation in the secondary and cradled a Josh Rosen pass in his arms for a long gain.
A fan nearby shouted a nickname that could stick, even if it’s long applied to a far more famous receiver.
“Rocket Ishmael!” the fan yelled.
Adams turned in a fine Raghib Ismail impression Saturday at UCLA’s fan appreciation day in San Bernardino, owning what might have been the highlight of the Bruins’ final training camp practice.
It was the kind of play UCLA Coach Jim Mora has coveted from a group of receivers that must catch on quickly. Four of the Bruins’ top five pass catchers from last year are gone, leading to a frenzied search for replacements.
Adams was moved from defensive back to join a group of receivers that includes Kenneth Walker III, Darren Andrews, Eldridge Massington, Alex Van Dyke and Theo Howard. Each made several noteworthy catches during the team’s six days here, though none had as much catching up to do as a player participating on offense for the first time since high school.
“I love the energy he brings to the offense,” Mora said of Adams. “He runs good routes, he’s getting off the press, you’ve seen [us] hand him the ball some. I love his toughness and I love his character so I’m really excited about the way things are going with him at receiver.”
Mora’s enthusiasm carried over to his team, which reached the halfway point of its preparation for the season opener Sept. 3 at Texas A&M. The Bruins broke camp Saturday and will work on refining their play before shifting their focus toward the Aggies sometime next week.
“In terms of functioning and going to play a game, I think we’re in really great shape and I think our mind-set is in a really great place,” Mora said. “For now it’s a matter of sharpening the spear and getting things cleaned up.”
One of the final battles for a starting job is at middle linebacker, where Kenny Young, Isaako Savaiinaea and Lokeni Toailoa remain in the running.
Mora said it didn’t matter who secured the spot because all three contenders would play.
“I’m not worried about this … is … the … guy,” Mora said, pausing between words for emphasis. “I like the competition and I’d like to keep it going all season. They’re all three capable, they’re all three good players.”
Young and Savaiinaea have an edge in experience, with Young having started 18 games in his career and Savaiinaea four. Taoiloa has pushed them by showing maturity beyond his years.
“He came in and he just had a different attitude than you’d expect a freshman to have,” Mora said. “It’s really impressed me.”
The Bruins have also moved redshirt freshman safety DeChaun Holiday to linebacker in recent days in an effort to provide depth. Mora said the 6-foot-3, 217-pounder was naturally built like a linebacker and the switch would allow him to add weight.
Holiday’s switch could also help offset the continued absence of freshman linebacker Mique Juarez, who missed an eighth consecutive practice Saturday. The absences have been excused, according to Mora.
Just for kicks
Mora has described UCLA’s kicking game as “the great unknown” because it will rely exclusively on freshmen.
The coach said he liked what he saw out of the newcomers during camp, describing long snapper Johnny Den Bleyker as consistent, punter Austin Kent as being able to “boom them” and kicker J.J. Molson as having shown improved accuracy in recent days.
The pressure figures only to mount.
“Let’s see how they do in front of 105 [thousand] people instead of just trees and mountains and a few fans,” Mora said.
Mora said defensive lineman Marcus Moore would redshirt because of a lingering back injury and offensive lineman Alex Akingbulu would redshirt in an effort to put on weight. … Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes was given the day off to rest his knee after coming back from a nearly yearlong absence. Tight end Austin Roberts did not practice because of nausea. … Defensive end Deon Hollins (concussion), fullback Cameron Griffin (concussion) and defensive end Takkarist McKinley (groin) are expected to practice Monday barring setbacks. Mora said offensive lineman Paco Perez (knee) also was “really close” to practicing. … The Bruins will have Sunday off.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch