Juggling receivers because of suspensions

October, 25, 2011
10/25/11
9:17
PM PT
Even regulars at UCLA practice needed a roster to tell who the players were on Tuesday.

Four regulars in the receiver rotation, Taylor Embree, Shaquelle Evans, Randall Carroll and Ricky Marvray have been suspended from the game for their parts in a bench-clearing brawl Thursday at Arizona so all four were in scout jerseys in practice.

Embree was wearing No. 11, Evans had on No. 21 and Marvray wore No. 1. Carroll wasn't even in an offensive scout jersey. He was wearing number 21 in the defensive blue. He had been working a bit as a defensive back in recent weeks, but Tuesday was the first time he spent and entire practice on defense.

Aside from the identity crisis, it also made clear just how thinned the Bruins' receiving corps will be when UCLA faces California Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

"We are always in football dealing with attrition," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "This is just an unusual amount of attrition at a particular position. So we’ve got to figure out exactly how to play the game and how to still have all the things you need as an offense to impact the defense and that’s what we’re working on."

The suspensions leave Nelson Rosario and Josh Smith as the only eligible receivers with significant experience. To pick up the slack, Jerry Rice, Jr. has been promoted from the scout team and Jerry Johnson, out for the last year while recovering from a broken ankle, will make his return.

Neuheisel said he hoped Johnson, who had five catches in a limited role last season before the injury could play about 15 plays.

"If we could get 15 plays from him, that would be a great help to us and I think we can get that," Neuheisel said. "I know he’s doing everything he can. He made a couple of plays today. I know this, they have to cover him and they have to respect that he can run."

Rice, a walk-on who has never played, also figures to contribute.

"Jerry Rice will play every play if you ask him to," Neuheisel said. "He just needs an opportunity and now he’s got one and we’ll see how he does. I’m excited to watch him."

F-back Jordon James could also get some time as a wide out and Neuheisel said Anthony Barr, out for the last three games because of a knee injury, will practice Wednesday and could be available for Saturday's game. The good news is that in Rosario and Smith, the Bruins will have two of their top three receivers for the game. Rosario leads the team with 30 catches for 558 yards and Smith has 158 yards receiving--third most among wide receivers-- and is averaging a team-best 26.3 yards per reception.

"We’ve got enough guys who have made big plays here to still play a complete football game," Neuheisel said.

The only caveat is that Smith may have to relinquish his kick return duties because he is going to be on the field for more offensive plays than usual. Smith is averaging 23.5 yards on kickoff returns.

"He certainly is a weapon back there, but we also believe Jordon [James] can do that job and do it well," Neuheisel said.

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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