Chip Kelly prefers to call a bye week “Improvement Week.” It comes at a good time for the UCLA Bruins who have one of the biggest games of the year on the horizon. The Utah Utes will be hosting UCLA on November 16 and this game will weigh heavily on who finishes first in the Pac-12 South.
Yesterday morning, head coach Chip Kelly started off praising the success of both sides of the ball, specifically calling out quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s continued improvement, the clicking of younger players on the offensive line like Duke Clemens and Sean Rhyan, and the defensive efforts of Krys Barnes. According to Kelly, the defensive execution is getting better while the calls are staying the same and the players’ familiarity with the system is sinking in and getting results.
Recruiting was touched on twice in the interview and it was initially noted that recruiting has definitely picked up recently. Kelly said it was just due to the fact that they had two recruiting weekends while students were finally back on campus. He said it was a “positive” that they have strung together three wins, and it would be “shallow” to think that a win streak would sway recruits’ decisions.
The subject came up again when Kelly was asked how happy he was with the commitments UCLA has so far. He said that he won’t be satisfied until signing day and called out the need to keep recruiting the players until they have actually signed their letter of intent with UCLA. He said they will continue to recruit to fill out roster needs. He also said “recruiting is never over” and that they won’t fill every spot because you never know what happens after the initial recruiting cycle and who you could pick up.
Their team focus this week is “improvement.” He said they have not met as a staff to get a game plan together focusing on Utah, but they will begin doing that over the weekend. As far as what they will be working on, Kelly offered a laundry list of areas they are focusing on:
Everything. Fundamentals, hand placement on blocks...ability to bend and sustain blocks, you know, finish them at that at the point of attack on the offensive side of the ball, catching the football...the fundamentals of catching the ball and going back to those base things holding onto the ball, ball security is always paramount...the mesh and what the quarterbacks working on, and handoffs, exchanges...on the defensive side of the ball, it always starts with tackling.
Devin Asiasi and Ethan Fernea were also available after yesterday’s practice. Asiasi was up first and there was a lot of talk about the offense clicking as players are becoming more comfortable with the system and the offensive line most notably coming together to give DTR time to throw while opening holes for running backs like Joshua Kelley. DTR was able to spread the ball around and hit new receivers against Colorado’s defense.
The media asked about the general tone of the team and the difference in attitude the players seem to be exuding over the last several weeks. Asiasi offered:
I feel like all that comes in the week of preparation that we have. Like Coach Kelly says all the time, we sink to the level of our training....When we work hard and have a great week of training going into the game, that’s the confidence you see when we go out there.
It is clear that all aspects of the game are coming together, and preparation seems to be the key.
Fernea was next and spoke about the experience of scoring his first touchdown and discussed how he didn’t actually expect to get the ball at the beginning of the play. He described the moment as “surreal” and said he had been training for the moment his entire life. Fernea says he is prepared to do whatever he needs to do in order to get the win, whether it means catching balls, blocking, or taking snaps on special teams. He, too, brought up the fact that the offense is finally coming together and getting into a rhythm.
Fernea described “positive energy” that is flowing throughout the team as they ride the three-game winning streak they are on and, while they have three big games coming up, they are back to business and preparing for Utah. Utah’s defense will be tough, but Fernea says they are ready to go out and “show they are the tougher team.”
Thanks to UCLA Athletics for all of yesterday’s interviews.