UCLA receivers hone in on dropped passes – Orange County Register

LOS ANGELES — Theo Howard plunges his hand into a bucket of uncooked rice. Below the surface of the rice, the sophomore receiver twists and mashes the grains as the muscles in his hand flex and squeeze.

After a year of inconsistency, the UCLA receivers hope the cure to their drop epidemic can be found at the bottom of the rice bucket and on the receiving end of a heavy ball shot out of a jugs machine.

“One (drop) is one too many,” wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty said. “The second we step on the field, the ball should not touch the ground, that’s always going to be our mentality. We’re going to strive for that perfect each and every day.”

Dougherty introduced the rice bucket exercise, often used by baseball players to improve grip strength, to the team this year. Howard said he tried it sporadically when he was younger, but is now seeing the value of the unorthodox exercise with regular practice. Along with grip-strengthening exercises, the receivers have daily sessions on the jugs machine catching heavy-weight balls. Dougherty charts every catch, going back to the first days of spring practice in April.

When the drops come – and they will because human nature is full of error – Dougherty relies on that chart to boost his players’ confidence and ward off long slumps. They dropped this one, but they’ve also caught more than 5,000 other passes in practice. Recognize the mistake, analyze its origin and correct it going forward. Head coach Jim Mora wants to avoid the self-fulfilling prophecy that might come when every dropped pass is followed with a groan and deflating talk of “just like last year.”

“There’s never a meeting where a ball’s dropped that it’s not addressed,” Mora said. “There’s never a practice where a ball’s dropped that it’s not addressed. It doesn’t mean you’re yelling at them all the time, you’re just coaching them.”

Inching toward the halfway point of training camp, the Bruins are still mixing and matching with their wide receiver groups. After nine receivers caught at least one pass last year, Dougherty expects the rotation to shrink to between four and six this season.

Darren Andrews, last year’s leading receiver, continues to stand out, showing consistency catching the ball and a building chemistry with quarterback Josh Rosen. Howard, whose much-hyped true freshman season included only 12 catches for 88 yards, is displaying a rare ability to create separation from defenders…

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