“If it was smooth on day one, then maybe we’re not putting enough in,” first-year UCLA football head coach Chip Kelly said before the sixth practice of fall camp. When asked what he thinks the team stands for right now, Kelly responded, “chaos.” With nearly 40 new faces since spring camp and a roster consisting of just over 71 percent underclassmen, the Bruins are in a time of adjustment.
Josh Rosen left for the NFL and is now playing quarterback with the Arizona Cardinals, leaving a gap in UCLA’s 2018 offense. 2017 returner Devon Modster, Michigan grad transfer Wilton Speight and dual-threat freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson highlight the starting quarterback battle as fall camp kicks off. Modster played in five games for the Bruins last season and compiled 671 yards with four touchdowns, including a 35-17 Cactus Bowl loss to Kansas State.
Speight missed eight games in 2017 due to a September back injury against Purdue, and finished with 581 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Thompson-Robinson, a top 2018 recruit from Las Vegas powerhouse Bishop Gorman, started only one year in high school but finished his career with 3,723 passing yards, 788 rushing yards and 58 total touchdowns.
The six-foot-one quarterback is already drawing high praise from teammates, including third-year receiver Theo Howard. “The game looks like it’s not too fast for him and he’s settling down, making good decisions,” Howard said. “He looks mature beyond his years.”
As for the wide receivers, the pace is a “step up from what we were doing last year,” according to Holmes. Starting in 2009, Kelly made his mark at Oregon with some of the fastest offenses in college football history. By the time he left for the NFL in 2012 Oregon had reached four consecutive BCS bowl games, proof his system can be successful with the right personnel. Howard, who caught four touchdowns last season, is poised for a breakout season under Kelly’s fast-paced style.
Quarterback-turned-receiver Dymond Lee played in two games last season on special teams and as a reserve receiver. In Kelly’s offense, Lee will be counted on to play hard and play fast. “I’m trying to get my fitness up to a level where I can be at the top of my game every single play,” he said.
2018 top-10 recruit and offensive guard Chris Murray has been spotted playing some center early in fall camp.
— Chris Murray (@chris1murray) August 6, 2018
“We’re trying to work six or seven guys at center,” Kelly said. He added, “everybody plays every position if they have to, it’s just the nature of what we do here.”
Paul Hornung Award watch list (given to the most versatile player in college football) cornerback Darnay Holmes led the 2017 Bruins with three interceptions and had seven games with at least three tackles. Holmes returns for his sophomore year despite the program’s firing of former head coach Jim Mora, one day after the Bruins third straight loss to USC this past November.
“Once the coaches got fired, I was just looking at myself like, ‘why am I here?,’” he said after Thursday’s practice. “That’s the worst nightmare you would want to have, but since (the new coaches) came in I definitely have a better mindset and am playing way better than the year before.” Holmes acknowledged the new coaches are installing a new toughness within this year’s group, and are individually emphasizing the importance of being able to play both sides of the field as a corner.
Senior linebacker Josh Woods is coming off a seven-game, 30 tackle 2017 season. Woods collected at least five tackles in four games but underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. He’s back and fully healthy for fall camp. “It’s just fun,” Woods said. “I’m grateful and blessed to get the opportunity to be on the field again.”
UCLA went a perfect 6-0 at home last season but lost all of their six road games. The Bruins don’t have much-returning depth from last season, and as a result, Kelly continues to experiment with players in different positions. “To play college football there’s lots of games, you need to be deeper than one deep,” Kelly said.
A home opener against Cincinnati kicks off the 2018 season September 1st. Other marquee home opponents include Washington (Oct. 6), USC (Nov. 17) and Stanford (Nov. 24). UCLA has an early road test at Oklahoma (Sept.8), followed by Kelly’s return to Oregon (Nov. 3) and a trip to Arizona State (Nov. 10).