UCLA wants to drop this sub­ject

Missed passes were a big prob­lem last sea­son. ‘It’s some­thing we can’t tol­er­ate.’

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Ben Bolch

Alex Van Dyke couldn’t quite pull in the deep pass from Devon Mod­ster dur­ing a re­cent prac­tice, fall­ing to the ar­ti­fi­cial turf as the ball slipped through his hands. Van Dyke lin­gered on the ground for a mo­ment, study­ing his out­stretched fin­gers as if to ask, How could you do that to me?

It would be easy for doubt to catch on among UCLA’s re­ceivers. They con­tin­u­ally dropped passes last sea­son and in the spring game, when seven catch­able balls hit the ground. There was even a pre­sum­ably un­in­tended re­minder of the is­sue last month at the Pac-12 Con­fer­ence’s me­dia days when cater­ers topped the blue UCLA-themed dough­nuts with crum­bled But­terfin­ger can­dies.

“It’s some­thing we can’t tol­er­ate,” sopho­more re­ceiver Theo Howard said of the drops.

The Bru­ins are ad­dress­ing the con­cern in ways that tran­scend the usual loft­ing of ex­tra passes from quar­ter­backs and hours spent work­ing with a ball-launch­ing ma­chine. New re­ceivers coach and pass­ing game co­or­di­na­tor Jim­mie Dougherty said he has charted ev­ery ball that has been caught from that ma­chine since his ar­rival,

pro­vid­ing a re­minder of progress.

“They can look back at it and say, ‘I caught 5,000 balls in be­tween Fe­bru­ary and the sea­son’ and that’s a con­fi­dence builder,” Dougherty said. “You’ve done it over and over and over again and that’s how you get good at any­thing, right?”

The re­ceivers have also found a tiny new ally in their pur­suit of surer hands. They have plunged their hands into buck­ets of rice, turn­ing their fin­gers and grip­ping the grains to build strength. They’ve put that new­found might to use catch­ing weighted balls fired out of the ball-launch­ing ma­chine.

Tech­nique is con­stantly stressed, with the re­ceivers told to fo­cus on the front half of the foot­ball and watch it un­til they are able to tuck it into their body.

UCLA faces a co­nun­drum of sorts in ap­proach­ing the dreaded “D” word be­cause coaches want to em­pha­size the re­duc­tion of drops without pro­duc­ing ex­ces­sive worry among play­ers.

“There’s never a meet­ing where a ball’s dropped that it’s not ad­dressed, there’s never a prac­tice where a ball’s dropped that it’s not ad­dressed,” Bru­ins coach Jim Mora said. “The prob­lem is if you get into a prac­tice set­ting and ev­ery time some­one drops one you go, ‘Oop, here we go, just like be­fore,’ then it’s like a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy.

“You can have 500 op­por­tu­ni­ties to catch the ball in a prac­tice, there’s go­ing to be some drops. That doesn’t mean we want them. You say, ‘What’s the ap­pro­pri­ate num­ber?’ I’d say ‘Zero,’ you know what I mean? But I know there’s a re­al­ism to it as well.”

Mora has said he con­sid­ers it a drop if the ball hits the re­ceiver’s hands and he can’t se­cure it. There were games last sea­son when it seemed as if the num­ber of drops nearly equaled the num­ber of catches, but the sea­son opener against Texas A&M on Sept. 3 at the Rose Bowl pro­vides a chance for ev­ery­one to start anew.

The Bru­ins re­turn their top two re­ceivers from last sea­son in Dar­ren An­drews (55 catches in 2016) and Jor­dan Lasley (41), who have al­ready been pushed by a host of oth­ers early in train­ing camp. Howard, Van Dyke, Eldridge Mass­ing­ton, Chris­tian Pabico and Audie Omo­to­sho are among the other re­ceivers who have also played as part of the first­team of­fense, with Dougherty say­ing he’s seek­ing a fourto six-man ro­ta­tion for the opener against the Ag­gies.

One of the pri­mary qual­i­fi­ca­tions for play­ing time will be con­sis­tency, the abil­ity to rou­tinely run the cor­rect route and make the catch or block the right player when a run is called. Drops can do more than ruin one play; Dougherty de­scribed them as “drive killers.”

“In­stead of on first down, it can just be a sim­ple hitch and you catch it and now it’s sec­ond and two,” Dougherty said. “Well, if you drop it and it’s sec­ond and 10 then I think ev­ery­body feels that en­ergy; it just kind of de­flates the side­line.”

The re­ceivers have heard the crit­i­cism that goes beyond the ex­pected mes­sage board chat­ter. Af­ter a dropped pass early in the spring game at Drake Sta­dium, one fan yelled, “Just like last year!”

“That’s noise out­side that we’re not wor­ried about,” An­drews said when asked if the re­ceivers were ea­ger to show that last sea­son’s strug­gles were be­hind them. “Our core is tight and we know ex­actly what we’re ca­pa­ble of and we be­lieve in our­selves and that’s all that matters.”

Hold­ing onto the ball would cer­tainly force the doubters to drop the sub­ject.

“It’s some­thing we can work on and get bet­ter at through rep­e­ti­tion over and over and over again to the point where it’s numb­ing,” Dougherty said. “Numb­ing rep­e­ti­tion is what we talk about, so we’re just do­ing ev­ery­thing in our power to elim­i­nate it.

“Drops are def­i­nitely some­thing you want to elim­i­nate. One is one too many.”

Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

UCLA RE­CEIVER Chris­tian Pabico can’t hang on to the ball in prac­tice as Dar­nay Holmes de­fends.

Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

ALLEN VAN DYKE, stretch­ing Tues­day, has played on the first-team of­fense dur­ing train­ing camp, but he has had at least one pass slip through his fin­gers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.