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UCLA receiver Jaylen Erwin is ready to prove he belongs at elite level

UCLA receiver Jaylen Erwin is ready to prove he belongs at elite level
UCLA head coach Chip Kelly watches his Bruins football team go down in defeat against Utah in the closing moments of the fourth quarter on Oct. 26, 2018, at the Rose Bowl. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Jaylen Erwin isn’t in Kansas anymore, and for that he’ll forever be grateful.

After growing up in North Carolina, the speedy receiver didn’t particularly enjoy his two years at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College before arriving at UCLA in January.

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“I’m from the South, so it was real different,” Erwin, a native of Charlotte, N.C., who has his 704 hometown area code tattooed on his left arm, said Thursday. “There were times when I didn’t want to be there, but I just had to focus on what I wanted to get out of going to [junior college] so I could get to my next destination.”

Erwin doesn’t want Westwood to be his final stop. He’s hoping his versatility can help him land a spot in the NFL after establishing himself as a star in Bruins coach Chip Kelly’s offense.

Kelly has continually shifted the 5-foot-11, 173-pound junior around at the inside and outside receiver positions to maximize his speed and find favorable matchups.

“I can take the top off a defense,” said Erwin, who made 45 catches for 865 yards and 14 touchdowns in his two junior college seasons, “or I can run short and intermediate routes just to run against the zone.”

He’s also getting a jump on the new receivers who will arrive in the summer by participating in spring practices. He had a good idea what to expect at UCLA because he is a cousin of Roman Phifer, the former Bruins linebacker who also was the team’s director of player development from 2016-17. Phifer accompanied Erwin to campus during his official visit.

Catching passes isn’t the extent of Erwin’s contributions. He’s also been used for punt and kickoff returns and hopes the heavy workload leads to opportunities beyond his final two college seasons.

“This is the best place that can develop me,” Erwin said, “to get me to the next level.”

Special hire?

UCLA’s special teams makeover continued with the recent hiring of Azusa Pacific special teams coordinator-kicking coach Will Rodriguez as an analyst. Rodriguez had previously served as a special teams analyst for the Rams and replaces Dalton Hilliard, who left the Bruins to become a cornerbacks coach at Tennessee Martin.

Kelly said Rodriguez would assist Derek Sage, the tight ends coach who has also assumed the special teams coordinator role this season, with breaking down film and other projects.

UCLA is seeking across-the-board improvement after struggling with its coverage and return units throughout last season.

“There has been a lot of attention to detail, a lot of fundamental work, which is what goes on in the spring,” Kelly said. “There’s not as much scheme work in the spring but identifying which guys can play which positions based upon the criteria at those positions.”

Welcome aboard

UCLA didn’t land Kelly’s top choice for its basketball coaching vacancy, going with Mick Cronin over the Kelly-endorsed Charles Barkley, but that didn’t stop Kelly from warmly welcoming Cronin on Wednesday upon his arrival on campus.

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“He’ll do a great job,” Kelly said. “His teams at Cincinnati were really fun to watch, so it’s an exciting time.”

Etc.

Defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia hasn’t had a cheering section of teammates at track meets, where he throws shot put and discus for the Bruins, but that could be changing. “They have a meet against ’SC coming up [April 28],” said fellow defensive lineman Tyler Manoa, “so we’ll for sure try to be out there to support our brother.” … Manoa said he would not commence his Mormon mission before next season, allowing him to play for the Bruins in 2019. … Kelly said he wouldn’t know the format for the spring game on April 20 until he has a better idea of the team’s available depth. That may not be the only consideration in play. The spring game last year consisted of only one half, Kelly said, because the Pac-12 Networks had only allotted an hour for its broadcast.

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