Saturday, December 15

UCLA football to focus on filling empty roles, moving past injuries

(Kristie-Valerie Hoang/Assistant Photo editor)

(Kristie-Valerie Hoang/Assistant Photo editor)

In order to pass concussion testing and be cleared to play Saturday, Josh Rosen will have to show that his memory is working properly.

If he does take the field, though, the junior quarterback might be better served by forgetting – about his favorite receivers, that is.

Rosen, recovering from a concussion suffered Oct. 28 at Washington, said Wednesday that he thinks he will be able to play in UCLA football’s (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) home game against Arizona State (5-4, 4-2) on Saturday.

The status of the Bruins’ receiving corps is a different and far less promising story – there’s a good chance the team’s top-three pass-catchers will all be absent in Rosen’s return.

Redshirt sophomore tight end Caleb Wilson and redshirt senior wide receiver Darren Andrews are out for the rest of the year with season-ending injuries, and redshirt junior wide receiver Jordan Lasley is in the middle of an indefinite suspension for disciplinary reasons.

Friday’s season-ending ACL injury to Andrews, whose 60 catches are over 20 more than any other Bruin has recorded this year, dealt a devastating blow to an offense already hurting from the absences of Wilson and Lasley.

“It’s not easy when you lose a guy like (Andrews), the type of season he was having,” said wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty. “But it’s part of football, it’s part of the game and it’s got to be the next-man-up mentality.”

Exactly who will be the next man – or men – up is unclear.

Sophomore wide receiver Theo Howard, who ranks fourth on the team in catches and produced a highlight-reel grab against Utah, looks capable of serving as a target, but even he must become more reliable, Dougherty said.

“It’s just doing it more consistently,” Dougherty said of Howard’s play. “Just really focusing on that, on the consistency and making plays throughout the game – not just flashing and making the great highlight catch and not making the routine one.”

Beyond Howard, redshirt junior Christian Pabico is the only other available wide receiver with double-digit catches on the season.

A former walk-on, Pabico was the star of UCLA’s fall camp, vaulting into a starting role, but has made just 12 catches on the year. He appeared to possibly break out on Oct. 21 against Oregon, hauling in four passes for 99 yards and a touchdown, though he has just three catches total in the two games since then.

“I think Pabico is emerging, kind of showing what he had shown early on in fall camp,” Dougherty said. “He played a little bit in the season, and I think the thing he was missing was just that confidence in a game to go out there and do it in game action. I think that Oregon game really gave him that confidence that he could go out and make plays in games.”

The Bruins won’t be asking one player to replace all of Andrews’ production, coach Jim Mora pointed out.

“(Andrews) was having a tremendous year so it’s unfair to ask one guy to step in and do it,” Mora said. “Hopefully there will be someone who steps into that position, but I think it’ll take more guys to fill that role.”

Beyond Howard and Pabico, though, the depth chart starts to look quite thin. Only two other wide receivers on the roster, redshirt senior Eldridge Massington and redshirt freshman Demetric Felton, have caught passes this year, and they’ve combined for just eight.

Mora named Massington, Felton and redshirt freshmen wide receivers Damian Alloway and Dymond Lee as the likely candidates to assume extra playing time going forward.

Rosen took a different approach when asked who he expects to step up.

“Anyone who wants to,” Rosen said. “Anyone who wants to.”

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Senior Staff

Matt Cummings is a senior staff writer covering UCLA football and men's basketball. In the past, he has covered baseball, cross country, women's volleyball and men's tennis. He served as an assistant sports editor in 2015-2016. Follow him on Twitter @MattCummingsDB.

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