It was an open audition at UCLA’s practice Tuesday. Anyone with the proper skill set was getting a look as punt returner.
Catching the ball was Scene 1.
The Bruins have had problems with punt returns. Steven Manfro has muffed a punt in the last two games, setting up touchdowns by the opponents.
“He has just had a couple games where it hasn’t gone well,” Mora said. “I feel for his psyche and for our team, it’s best to give him a little break.”
Which led to a casting call that included Shaquelle Evans, Randall Goforth, Andrew Abbott, Tevin McDonald and Devin Fuller.
“We had a lot of guys back there,” Mora said.
Thigpen, Abbott and Fuller have handled punts this season. Fuller, a first-year freshman, replaced Manfro against Arizona State on Saturday. He fielded one punt and dropped the ball, then recovered the fumble.
Manfro, a redshirt freshman, is averaging 8.8 on punt returns, with his longest return 27 yards. His last two drops have been high-profile gaffes.
Against Utah, Manfro tried to field a punt inside the five-yard line only to have the ball glance off his hands. The fumble was recovered for a touchdown.
He made the same mistake against Arizona State. The Sun Devils recovered the ball on the 13-yard line and scored two players later.
“It hurts him,” Mora said. “He takes it seriously. He works his tail off at it. I have no doubt that at some point in his career he will come back and be a great punt returner for us.”
Manfro bounced back from the mistake. He had three receptions for 33 yards against Arizona State. The biggest was a 14-yard reception to start UCLA’s game-winning field goal drive. Manfro snagged the pass on the sideline and got out of bounds.