LOS ANGELES – UCLA beat out quite a few schools to land DJ Justice, a three-star wide receiver recruit in last year’s class who turned down Auburn, Penn State and Oregon, among other schools.
The athletic 6-foot pass-catcher, billed as a one-on-one nightmare for defenders, could have developed into a potential big play threat in Chip Kelly’s high-octane offense. But it appears that Justice may not even take a single snap on offense.
After not seeing playing time last year, Justice is switching over to defense.
Kelly confirmed that Justice will play either safety or cornerback this season after he was spotted taking defensive snaps during the first week of fall camp. Justice was a receiver during spring camp, but discussions had already begun around then about a potential switch.
“I want kids to be comfortable in what they want to do,” Kelly said. “He’s a really good athlete and we’ll find a way to get him involved, whether it be special teams or defense or whether it be on offense.”
Justice, the son of former MLB slugger David Justice, requested the change. He played a bit of defense in high school at Bishop Alemany in addition to wide receiver. As a sophomore, Justice notched five interceptions in three games, Kelly noted.
The Bruins don’t have much immediate space at wide receiver even with the departure of Kyle Philips to the NFL. They’ve landed transfers like Jake Bobo and Titus Mokiao-Atimalala who could start immediately, and have returners in Kazmeir Allen, Kam Brown and Logan Loya.
Perhaps Justice could land on defense, with a new defensive coordinator in Bill McGovern trying to revamp a secondary that was gashed for 260.2 passing yards per game last season, last in the Pac-12.
Justice is the second player to switch sides this offseason, with former reserve defensive lineman Tyler Manoa moving over to the offensive line in the spring in the hopes of finding more playing time. Manoa, lining up at left tackle during fall camp, is among the contenders for a starting spot after spending four years on defense.
That could be an auspicious sign for Justice, and a repeat indicator of the coach’s philosophy.
“A really good athlete, smart kid, so I expect him to contribute,” Kelly said, “Again, we want kids to play the position they want to play.”
Special teams injury
Kicker Nicholas Barr-Mira did not participate in special team drills Saturday, warming up off to the side with an apparent injury.
In addition to placekicking duties, Barr-Mira has emerged as a contender to also serve as the team’s punter, Kelly said earlier in the week. UCLA is looking to fill the void at punter after Luke Akers transferred to Northwestern.
Temperatures stretched well into the 80s during practice, with fall camp beginning in the dead of summer.
The heat didn’t register much to Gabriel and Grayson Murphy, the twin defensive linemen who transferred from North Texas this spring.
“It’s hot, but it’s nothing like that Texas heat with that humidity,” Grayson said. “It’s probably like 105, 106 over there right now.”
Gabriel said they’ve been brushing off teammates’ complaints about the California heat.
“We come from Texas, and this is nothing,” Gabriel said. “It’s three weeks straight of 100 degrees out there. Coming out here and getting a little breeze during practice, it feels a lot better than back in Texas.”