LOS ANGELES -- The UCLA Bruins have a need at receiver, so it must be nice to have someone named Jerry Rice in reserve.
Rice Jr., the son of the NFL's all-time leading receiver, is getting a shot to earn some playing time and is again impressing. He set career highs last week against Colorado with three catches for 30 yards as the coaches called upon the walk-on junior to help fill the void left by injured freshman Devin Lucien. He also made some nice downfield blocks and is expected to again be a factor when the Bruins face California on Saturday.
"When guys go down, I just try to make the most of my opportunity whether it's blocking or catching," Rice said. I'm progressing pretty well. I'm learning a lot of things every day and there are things every day I can work on. I'm just trying to do the little things to become more polished."
This season, he has played in four of UCLA's five games and has four catches for 38 yards. Three of his six career catches have resulted in first downs, including his career-long 20-yard reception in the fourth quarter last week that set up a UCLA touchdown.
"Every time an opportunity comes to me, I'm just looking to make the play whether it's catching or blocking," Rice said. "Right now, I'm playing pretty good but there is always something that I can learn so I always remember that in the back of my head."
Rice said he can only hope to stick in the rotation this year. Last year, he got a shot to play when when four UCLA receivers were suspended the game after a benches-clearing brawl at Arizona. He played most of the following game against California and had two catches for 17 yards in his first career action but played in only one other game the rest of the season after the suspended players returned and did not have another catch.
"It didn't really matter because I can always learn and I've kept learning my whole career," Rice said. "You learn by watching other players play so I watched Nelson [Rosario] and Embo [Taylor Embree] and picked up some things so it translated to this year. You can make anything a positive if you set your mind to it."
Because of the fast tempo UCLA plays this year, the Bruins use a heavy rotation at receiver and have had 11 players catch passes in each of the last two games. Coach Jim Mora said he had no problem using Rice, who is consistently one of the hardest workers in practice, as part of that rotation.
"Jerry played really well the other night," Mora said. "He got extended playing time and did a heck of a job."