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UCLA FOOTBALL

UCLA turns to Jeff Locke to help solve kicking problems

The punter kicks field goals of 34 and 35 yards during the two-minute drill work at the end of practice Monday. Coach Rick Neuheisel is looking for consistency from his kickers.

August 22, 2011|By Chris Foster
  • UCLA punter Jeff Locke might handle the Bruins' kicking duties this season.
UCLA punter Jeff Locke might handle the Bruins' kicking duties this… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

If there was one clear decision that came out of UCLA's scrimmage Saturday, it was the need to solve the Bruins' kicking issues.

That had punter Jeff Locke kicking field goals Monday. He made kicks of 34 and 35 yards during the two-minute drill work at the end of practice, while kicker Kip Smith watched.

This is the direction Coach Rick Neuheisel said he was forced to move after Smith's wobbly performances. He made a 47-yard field goal, but missed a 30-yard try and was also wide on one extra-point attempt, during the scrimmage.

"We haven't been anywhere close to being consistent," Neuheisel said.

So Locke was enlisted.

"That's my job, to turn over every rock," Neuheisel said. "I need our team to have confidence too. I'm not throwing in the towel on Kip. But Kip has got to rise up."

Locke made all three kicks during pre-practice warmups. Smith was two of four.

"Coach came in today and said it was an open competition," Locke said. "Every job, kicking, kickoffs, punting, is open. We are going to have the best guy on the field."

Locke is already the best guy at two of those jobs. He ranked fourth nationally, averaging 45.8 yards per punt in 2010. He was also extremely effective on kickoffs.

"I would love to alleviate some of that, but that will require some consistency for the others," Neuheisel said.

Kickoffs will be Tuesday's competition.

If he ends up doing all three jobs, Locke said, "The biggest thing will be limiting my reps in practice. I got to definitely focus on quality over quantity and not kill my leg."

Secondary issues

Cornerback Aaron Hester, who injured his hamstring during the scrimmage, was back on the field Monday, allowing Neuheisel to exhale.

"I was stretching all Saturday night and I woke up Sunday feeling pretty good," Hester said. "I went to treatment and passed all the tests."

Neuheisel said, "I think it was more of a scare."

There was better news at safety, as well. Tevin McDonald practiced after missing much of last week with an ankle injury. Tony Dye, who has been out with a groin injury, did individual drills and Neuheisel expects him to practice Tuesday.

Dalton Hilliard, though, sat out after "tweaking" his knee early in practice. "They were just being cautious," Hilliard said.

The injuries allowed safety Stan McKay to work with the first team.

"I'm trying to get in there and show them what I can do," McKay said. "It's a good opportunity."

Quick hits

Freshman quarterback Brett Hundley was cleared to increase his practice load on Monday. Hundley, who had knee surgery last month, joined individual and team drills. … Wesley Flowers suffered a collapsed lung during the scrimmage and was taken to Reagan Medical Center on Saturday night. He was released Sunday and will be out at least four weeks. … Isaiah Bowens received permission to skip practice to attend to a family issue. … Wide receiver Taylor Embree (calf injury) was scheduled to see a doctor Monday.

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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