We continue with our unit previews today with the wide receivers and tight ends...
**Mossi Johnson is recovering well from his knee injury last year, and should participate in some capacity in fall camp. As far as we know, he's still at receiver.
**Demetric Felton, who suffered a shoulder injury in spring practice, could miss the season.
WR Theo Howard
Howard came in this spring, but we'll still include him here, since that's been the habit in these preview stories. In spring, he definitely looked like he belonged on the field with Pac-12 players, and he had even gotten a little bigger and stronger since high school, which probably aided him. He has tremendous playmaking ability, and he's one of the faster receivers on the team. He already seems to have developed a good connection with Josh Rosen, which is critical. Tracy watched Howard at a offseason workout, and, if you didn't know anything about the team, you probably would have come away with the idea that he was one of the top two or three receivers on the team.
We haven't seen Omotosho in person, so this is probably one of the more intriguing guys to watch in fall camp for us. UCLA has a need for a bigger, talented receiver with the losses of Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte, so Omotosho could find a role if he performs well in fall camp. We've heard good things about him, and his high school film is impressive, but nothing compares to seeing a guy in person.
Wilson sat out his entire senior year recovering from an injury, so there's an expectation that there will be some rust here. We saw him on campus, and he actually looks like he's thickened out a bit, and we're not surprised to see him listed at 245 on UCLA's roster -- he might actually be bigger than that. We thought during the recruiting cycle that he might project as a flex tight end, but given what we saw of him, he looks more like a blocking tight end. It was just one look, though, so we're interested to see how he looks in camp.
TE Caleb Wilson
The USC transfer drew some pretty nice reviews from people we know at USC during his time redshirting there, so we have that to go on. He's also a big body, at 6'5 or so and 240+ pounds, so UCLA is certainly getting some size at the position. We're going to watch both Wilsons closely this fall to see if they have the potential to solve some of UCLA's tight end depth problems going forward.
We're very familiar with Alloway after watching him in 7-on-7 over the last two years. He's pretty much a classic slot receiver -- probably a little more quick than fast, small, and has the ability to get open quickly. The interesting thing for him is that this spring, UCLA seemed to de-emphasize the slot a little bit, considering the amount that the Bruins are using fullbacks and tight ends, so it could be tough for Alloway to see the field in year one. He also has guys like Darren Andrews, Stephen Johnson, and Ishmael Adams ahead of him, which is daunting in its own right.
Like we said, Felton could miss the year after suffering a shoulder injury early in fall camp. We'll likely hear more on this as fall camp wears on.
Among all the wide receivers and tight ends, we're reasonably confident we know just one starter: Nate Iese. Everything else is in varying degrees of flux. We'll make a stab at the starting receiver corps, but there is still much that's unknown.
So, let's start with Iese. The senior has bounced from linebacker to defensive end to fullback to tight end in his UCLA career and has never really found a perfect fit -- which is strange, since he's a great jumbo athlete. He'll hope to make his mark at tight end in his final season as a Bruin, and there's reason to think he will. He has improved as a blocker over the last two years after struggling in his first season as a fullback. He's still not a tremendous blocker, but he's better than he was.
As a pass-catcher, he has good hands and has the athleticism to get open and make tough catches. He's never really been a featured player in the offense, so it'll be interesting to see if he can handle the focus that comes from being a starting tight end in a pro-style offense. If he shows he's ready in fall camp, he could easily have 25+ catches this year. During the spring, in the last week or so he started to flash a little bit, so hopefully that carries over to fall camp.
We're reasonably confident, though far from certain, that Darren Andrews will start in the slot, at least to begin the season. He's the leading returning receiver and he looked good during spring ball, to the point where we can imagine Eric Yarber having a difficult time demoting him. He did very well replacing Devin Fuller last year when Fuller was dinged up, and actually did more with his opportunities in the slot than Fuller had since his sophomore year. After years of complaining about the lack of speed in the receiving corps, Andrews is one of seemingly a dozen guys with plus speed.
At the outside spots, it's a little more difficult to figure out who's going to start. Based on spring, you'd have to say Kenny Walker has a good shot on one side. He probably had the most first-string reps of any of the outside receivers, and he showed a little more depth to his game, running better routes and showing better hands. We've long maintained that if Walker ever figured out how to consistently catch the ball he'd be a dynamic threat, and it seemed like that was starting to happen this spring. We're skeptical, though, until we see it in games -- as we've seen over the years, issues with catching the ball can be equal parts physical and mental.
At the other end, we're conflicted. UCLA needs a bigger receiver, and both Eldridge Massington and Alex Van Dyke showed flashes this spring that they could be that guy. Massington, though, probably had the better moments over the last week or so, and he's had more seasoning than Van Dyke, so we wouldn't be shocked if he won the job. He and Rosen finally seemed to be building a connection over the last week of spring practices, and if that carries over into fall camp, Massington could quickly become one of the favored targets on the team.
There will be heated competitions, though. UCLA actually has a lot of talent at the receiver positions, and we wouldn't be shocked if, at midseason, the starting receiver corps looks something more like Adams/Howard/Massington/Iese.
We loved what we saw from Adams this spring. He was arguably the team's best receiver through portions of spring ball, looking like the most explosive playmaker UCLA has had in quite a while. He showed really natural ball skills, and, as you might expect, he had very good route-running instincts, as if he has an innate understanding of coverage (it's almost like he played defense for four years!) But his explosiveness was what really stood out. Everything we all liked about Adams as a returner during his sophomore season was on display on offense, and it was a sight to behold. We said above that Andrews would likely win the starting slot job, but Adams showed enough this spring that he should be given a long look at any of the three starting receiver positions.
Van Dyke, like we said above, will be part of that competition to win the bigger outside receiver job, and he's still deeply in the thick of it. He has filled out considerably since being referred to as Bambi during his freshman season, and he showed this spring that he's more willing to be physical and fight for jump balls than he was when he was significantly more narrow. His hands are pretty average, though, and while he made some tough catches during camp, he also dropped some easy ones. Improving that will be critical for him.
As we said above, Howard also could flash so much that it'll be hard to keep him off the field. Again, he's drawn comparisons to a young Marqise Lee that, after seeing Howard compete this spring and summer, we don't think are too far off. Obviously, he needs some seasoning and needs to continue to get stronger, but that kind of playmaking ability will force itself on the field sooner rather than later.
Behind Iese, Austin Roberts looked impressive this spring as a flex tight end. Both Iese and Roberts could be on the field at the same time when UCLA goes to double-tight formations. Roberts isn't a traditional tight end, and looks much more like Thomas Duarte than, say, Logan Paulsen. But he'll provide another pass-catching weapon for Rosen, and we wouldn't be surprised to see him carve out a nice role this year. The Wilsons could also factor in and earn some real playing time in year one.
And then we'll see what happens with guys like Stephen Johnson, Jordan Lasley, Cordell Broadus, Mossi Johnson, and the remaining many freshmen. Stephen Johnson bounced between defense and offense this spring, and didn't look completely natural at cornerback, which was kind of a surprise. He has explosive speed, so we'd like to see the staff settle on a role for him very quickly so he can grow into a position. He could end up the heir to Adams as explosive receiver plus kick returner and punt returner. For Lasley, it's just a question of whether that light is ever going to turn on. He didn't catch our eyes a whole lot during spring ball, and just looking at the depth chart, he's at real risk of being buried heading into his redshirt sophomore year, unless he really shines this August. With Broadus, he looked like a guy who hadn't played football in a year this spring, and will need some time to shake off that rust before we can really evaluate his role going forward. Mossi Johnson is returning from injury, and it's uncertain when he'll be fully ready for contact.