UCLA receivers trying not to drop the ball

Anybody who watched a UCLA football game last season probably saw a receiver drop a pass.

It was a common occurrence as the Bruins finished 116th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in passing offense. A lot of that had to do with poor pass protection and inconsistent quarterback play, but the receivers deserve their share of the blame.

It has not been much better so far this spring, with footballs hitting the ground far more often than they should as "the dropsies" seem to be lingering and contagious.

"It’s something that we’re conscious of," said new offensive coordinator Mike Johnson, who also coaches the receivers. "It’s something that we’ve talked about. Those things can’t happen. You have to make the plays that are coming to you and that you are supposed to make. It’s as simple as that. Dropped balls can’t be something that’s a constant."

To try and remedy the problem, receivers are doing extra work before and after practice on the Juggs machines and have spent some time on their own doing drills to help. Taylor Embree, for instance, is catching tennis balls with different colored dots on them. the challenge is to call out the color of the dot as he catches it.

"It forces you to watch it in," Embree said. "Most of our drops, when you watch on tape, we drop the ball when the ball is about to hit our hands and we look away. So you gotta focus on the ball."

Coach Rick Neuheisel said he's trying not to get too discouraged about the drops in spring because the team is learning a new offense with new plays.

"It almost always happens when you install a bunch because they’re thinking so much and the things that come so naturally all of a sudden become harder," he said. "As we get more comfortable that will dissipate."

But last season's passing statistics stand out as a glaring reminder of all the things that went wrong with UCLA's throwing game. The Bruins averaged 141.1 yards passing per game. Only Navy (120), Air Force (119.3), Georgia Tech (83.9) and Army (73.1) finished behind UCLA in passing offense.

Those are option-based offenses that attempted 157, 168, 168 and 138 passes, respectively. UCLA attempted 318.

Again, it's not all on the receivers, but it would certainly help if they caught more of the catchable passes that come their way.

"It’s focus," Johnson said. "We need to have better focus, we need to have better concentration and we need to make sure we make the plays that we’re supposed to make. It’s as simple as that. There has to be very few dropped balls in each practice and in each game. You can’t win games with a lot of dropped balls."