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UCLA replacing punt returner Steven Manfro after fumbles

October 30, 2012|By Chris Foster
  • UCLA punt returner Steven Manfro, left, loses the ball in the end zone against Utah on Oct. 13.
UCLA punt returner Steven Manfro, left, loses the ball in the end zone against… (Alex Gallardo / Associated…)

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.

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