Bruins receiver Devin Lucien makes a one-handed catch during a scrimmage… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
UCLA wide receiver Devin Lucien crossed over the middle, making the wrong read on the linebacker. It was a noncontact drill, but wide receivers coach Eric Yarber made sure Lucien knew that he would have been clobbered.
"You're asleep," Yarber said. "I'm visiting you in the hospital right now."
The high-volume verbal whip-cracking from UCLA coaches — particularly Coach Jim Mora — during training camp has a lighter side — Yarber.
The first-year assistant has a different method for getting receivers up to speed with the Bruins' up-tempo offense. Even if sometimes they are not quite sure what he just said.
"He'll say things and I'll go, 'What?' " wide receiver Shaquelle Evans said. "Not out loud, but in my head."
In their heads is where Yarber takes up residence, chirping at the receivers every day during practice.
"Don't let fatigue make you a coward."
"It's not a crime to fall down, but it is not to get up."
"Don't tell me how rough the water is, just bring the ship in"
Those are pretty easy to connect the dots. But when he told receivers last week, "You've got to be a nerd to catch the football," a follow-up explanation was needed.
"A lot of times, guys try to catch the ball and act cool, look away at the last second, and the ball pops out of their hands," Yarber said. "I tell them a nerd would never do that. He is a guy who is going to have his eyes on the ball from the moment it touches his hands. It doesn't look cool on TV, but it's fundamentally sound."
Yarber said, "I have been around a lot of great, older coaches. I picked those things up along the way."
The result of his humor is that UCLA receivers have shown sticky fingers this training camp compared with past years, from veterans like Evans to newbies like Lucien, who leaped to reach around cornerback Ishmael Adams this week to make a touchdown catch.
"He'll bust us up in the meeting room, but that's his way of coaching," Evans said. "He has improved our focus."
Yarber is working with a inexperienced group. Evans, a junior, had 19 receptions for 309 yards and two touchdowns in 2011. The only other wide receivers who had catches last season were junior Ricky Marvray (10) and junior Jerry Rice Jr. (two). Senior Jerry Johnson had five receptions in 2010.
"I get my point across by saying little jokes," Yarber said. "Sometimes I'll see the quarterbacks chuckling, but the guys understand what I'm saying."
Of course, not everyone has to listen.
"I trained myself to turn my hearing off to his voice," defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin joked. "When his guys catch a pass on us, I don't hear him."
The Bruins will start preparations in earnest for the Aug. 30 game at Rice when they resume practice Saturday.
"The cards are drawn up, the scouting report is done, the game plan is just about complete," Mora said. "We're ready to start rolling."
Almost ready, anyway.
"We're still tinkering with a few spots," Mora said, "along the offensive line in particular."
Guards Jeff Baca and Greg Capella, both trying to return from concussions, participated in Thursday's practice at the Rose Bowl. Mora said, "They did great."
But the Bruins went through game simulations without contact during practice. Neither Baca nor Capella has participated in contact drills since the injuries.
The Owls, who were 4-8 last season, have health problems on the defensive line. Bobby Kieswetter (knee), Josh Skinner (toe) and Dylan Klare (shoulder) are out for the season. Nico Carlson (knee) remains questionable for the game against the Bruins.