UCLA receiver Theo Howard has lost playing time but he hasn't lost confidence

Wednesday, 11 October 2017, 02:54:06 PM. Theo Howard has been plenty productive for someone who’s made only one catch for five yards since halftime of UCLA’s loss to Stanford late last month.

Theo Howard has been plenty productive for someone who’s made only one catch for five yards since halftime of UCLA’s loss to Stanford late last month.

The sophomore receiver has spent extra time catching passes from a ball-launching machine and working on the nuances of footwork, all in an effort to overcome what might be the most difficult stretch of his college career.

Howard dropped a pass that would have put UCLA up by two touchdowns against Stanford on Sept. 23 and had a ball stripped for a fumble after making a catch on a slant route later in the same quarter. He lost some playing time as a result of those mistakes but not his sense of self-worth.

“I’ve been fine,” Howard said Tuesday. “I didn’t have too great of a game against Stanford, but the main thing for me is just not losing confidence in myself because I know that I have the ability to go out there and play, just need to focus and keep working on it.”

Howard had been one of quarterback Josh Rosen’s favorite targets earlier in the season, catching a team-high seven passes for 110 yards and a touchdown against Hawaii and catching four passes against Memphis. But he was supplanted in the receiver rotation by Eldridge Massington in the second half against Stanford and made only one catch on Sept. 30 against Colorado.

“He’s certainly talented, but he’s young and he’s just moving through some of those growing pains,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said of Howard, who also lost playing time early last season after some difficulties with blocking. “I’m impressed with the way that he’s handled that his playing time was cut down a little bit because he was struggling.”

ucla-receiver-theo-howard-has-lost-playing-time-but-he-hasn-and-apos;t-lost-confidence photo 1 Ben Bolch

As the wide-eyed girls huddled close, hoping to catch his every word, the most celebrated football player on campus made an entirely unnecessary introduction.

“I’m Dorian,” he said last Saturday, just as the midday sun was starting to scorch the artificial turf at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High....

As the wide-eyed girls huddled close, hoping to catch his every word, the most celebrated football player on campus made an entirely unnecessary introduction.

“I’m Dorian,” he said last Saturday, just as the midday sun was starting to scorch the artificial turf at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High....

(Ben Bolch)

Howard said his teammates continually encourage him, and he has maintained a positive attitude.

“He never sulks,” Mora said. “He just comes out and works harder. He’s getting it. He’s starting to really get it. We see flashes of great, really, really special things with him and like all young players, you see some inconsistency, so as he builds consistency, you’ll see more playing time and more production.”

Closing the deal

Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Chigozie Nnoruka ranks second on the Bruins with four tackles for loss and is tied for third with one sack — with plenty of near misses.

Nnoruka was a constant presence in the backfield against Colorado but didn’t log was a sack because Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez continually eluded Nnoruka and his teammates.

“I wouldn’t really call it frustrating because I know it’s going to come,” said Nnoruka, part of a defense that has not recorded a sack in its last two games. “I feel like I’ve been so close so many times.”

Nnoruka said coaches have added new drills in practice the last two weeks that have focused on keeping quarterbacks in the pocket, the idea being to create pressure without providing running room.

“We’ve been working on tackling the quarterback when you beat your man,” Nnoruka said, “so I feel like with the new drills that coaches have put in place, that’s going to help me a lot to like actually get the sack and not just the pressure.”

Controversy avoided

One issue UCLA has not been confronted with is what to do during the national anthem. Players are in the locker room each week, precluding any sort of controversy like the one that has engulfed the NFL over players kneeling in protest of social injustices.

“I think it’s important to respect everybody’s opinion and everybody’s take and we try to do that at UCLA in a very educational way,” Mora said. “We’re all about freedom of speech and freedom of expression but we’re also about respecting our country and respecting our military.

“My personal opinion is that kneeling when they’re playing the national anthem doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re being disrespectful to the flag nor to the military. I think that people find ways to make statements. That’s what this country is about and has always been about and I think we have to respect each other. I know that our young men, if they were given that opportunity, would be very respectful.”

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The Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks 3-1 in Game 3 of the National League division series on Monday to advance to the National League Championship Series.

The Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks 3-1 in Game 3 of the National League division series on Monday to advance to the National League Championship Series.

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The Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks 3-1 in Game 3 of the National League division series on Monday to advance to the National League Championship Series.

The Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks 3-1 in Game 3 of the National League division series on Monday to advance to the National League Championship Series.

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Los Angeles Times reporters Andy McCullough and Dylan Hernandez talk sweep and what is next for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS.

Los Angeles Times reporters Andy McCullough and Dylan Hernandez talk sweep and what is next for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS.

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The Los Angeles Dodgers swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS. Now, no to the NLCS. Who does the team want to play? Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke breaks it down.

The Los Angeles Dodgers swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS. Now, no to the NLCS. Who does the team want to play? Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke breaks it down.

ucla-receiver-theo-howard-has-lost-playing-time-but-he-hasn-and-apos;t-lost-confidence photo 6 CAPTION

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner talks about defeating the Diamondbacks in the National League division series.

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner talks about defeating the Diamondbacks in the National League division series.

ucla-receiver-theo-howard-has-lost-playing-time-but-he-hasn-and-apos;t-lost-confidence photo 7 CAPTION

Dave Roberts talks attitude and Yu Darvish before game 3 of the NLDS.

Dave Roberts talks attitude and Yu Darvish before game 3 of the NLDS.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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