clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

UCLA Football: Trying to Improve a Little Each Day

Whether he uses the phrase “Win the day” or not, Chip Kelly is looking for his players to keep getting better.

Martell Irby is one of the running backs who have stepped up while Josh Kelley has been injured.
Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Yesterday’s post-practice player interviews featured Keegan Jones and Martell Irby, two team members that have stepped up in the wake of injuries to both Joshua Kelley and Kazmeir Allen. But, before we get to that, UCLA Bruins Head Coach Chip Kelly updated the media on some things before practice.

The first thing he was asked about was an Instagram post from offensive lineman Alec Anderson who posted on Instagram that he had surgery on Tuesday:

Kelly said Anderson had “a little procedure” on his leg but he didn’t know exactly what it was. But he did say that it was “nothing serious” and he did not “anticipate and long term issues” with Anderson.

Kelly was also asked about the number of players in yellow non-contact jerseys, but he said this is “the best camp we’ve had” and the number is “to be expected when you have 110 guys”.

Kelly was also very non-committal when asked about which offensive linemen were taking reps with the first team and said that all the players are getting equal reps and also gave a long list of players taking reps at center. So, if you’re looking for a depth chart at this point, you’re going to be disappointed. The only player he would confirm that we would not see on opening day due to injury was offensive lineman Zach Cochrun.

Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the Los Angeles Daily News asked where they’ve taken the biggest step from last year to this year, and Kelly responded:

Just familiarity. Like every single one of those freshmen that played early in there, it’s not a first time for them. They felt really comfortable in the scheme. [They’re] not waiting to get the call and [they are] understanding about kind of situational football. hat’s going to be called on third down. He knows those defenses that are available on the menu for third down and anticipating what we’re going to call.

The media also threw out a few questions regarding specific players, beginning with Irby. Kelly noted that Irby has gotten a lot faster and both Coach Sage and Coach Foster are happy with where he is in his development. Kelly called him “one of the hardest working guys.”

When asked about Martin Andrus, Jr., Kelly replied, “Martin had an unbelievable off-season. He’s in the best shape of his life.” Kelly added that Andrus will offer additional options on the defensive line to keep guys fresh and rotate players in. Steven Mason was another defensive lineman mentioned that has come far in the offseason and looking much better from last year to this year. Kelly says he feels like they have a “good nucleus of kids across the defensive front.”

A member of the media asked what Kelly is looking to get out of players week to week. He responded the same way he always has. He said that he wants day-to-day improvement. He won’t even talk about depth charts and what he expects this season, saying, “I have no idea what our depth chart is going to be in two weeks,” mostly because there are so many unknowns in a given football season. He goes on to say:

None of our coaches talk about it. What they talk about is how we are going to get a little bit better today. What’s that one big thing you that you’re gonna take away from today’s training session that we’re going to really concentrate on...focus on...see if we can’t get a little bit better on and, then, go in, digest it, watch the film in the afternoon in the meetings with the coaches,, correct some things, then walk through, install a couple things in that walk-through and, then, kind of rinse and repeat.

The last thing Kelly was asked was “can you get recruiting where it needs to be without the thought of a winning season”. Kelly’s response was:

We like where recruiting is. I think what we do is try to find the right fit for this university. It’s a special university and you have to find special people because it’s not just football. It’s the academic component too. It’s the social component too and that’s when you’re successful in recruiting, is when you find the right fit for the university. That person may just be the right fit at this school, but he’s not a right fit at another school. That doesn’t mean he’s not a good person and not a good player but there’s environments that certain kids flourish in and that’s why, the cool part about our conference is, all twelve schools are vastly different and they all have pluses and they all have minuses. The coaches that are successful are the ones that recruit to what their school is all about both on and off the field.

This is a really good response to a potentially loaded question. One of the biggest criticisms of Kelly has been recruiting. It hasn’t been just misses on key players, but the low ratio of blue chip players and also the lack of communication with players that were contacted by UCLA, but seemed to lose communication somewhere in the process. The coaching staff seems to be trying to fix the recruiting errors that were made last year, especially since recruiting has changed so much since Kelly left Oregon.

Thanks to UCLA Athletics for all of yesterday’s interviews.

As I wrote at the beginning, Keegan Jones and Martell Irby met with the media after practice.

Ben Bolch got things started by asking who the fastest guy on the team is and Jones said he is not only the fastest but that his speed can transfer over to track as well. Jones also mentioned how running backs coach DeShaun Foster is pushing the running backs unit:

Coach Foster, he’s been telling us to step up and we have to work hard and fill in the spaces. While Josh is out, of course, everybody has to step up and make sure everybody fills that role and just keep working hard and going day-by-day.

Missing players like Kelley means they have to be sure to bring the younger players up and keep them motivated.

Jones was then asked about the full stable of running backs and whether or not there will be enough reps to go around. He said that they’ll definitely “have a rotation” and that everyone brings their own skill set to the position. Jones also stated that coming in early during the spring really helped because the new freshmen that have just arrived are “struggling.” He is now helping the new guys get acclimated to the new system and environment.

Martell Irby was up next and the first thing he said is that he feels it is a “blessing” to be out on the field with the team and to “just have fun getting better day in and day out.” Irby said that, with Kelley out, they have stepped up and “answered the call...devoting more time to the playbook” and “we know Josh Kelley is the one but, with him being out right now, it just gives us a chance to grow up”. He also added:

I feel like I understand Josh’s role a little bit more, kind of having to be a leader, having to lead by example. We’ve got young guys coming in. So, there’s not much space for us to mess up in camp. You can’t allow them to see that. You’ve gotta lead by example....We’re just trying to be the big brother now.

Both Jones and Irby were asked about getting running backs out of the backfield and into open space to make catches, and Irby says he’s definitely up to the challenge. He says he can “get the yards that need to be got...whatever needs to be done I’ll do it” and used the word “versatile” a few times.

Jones also credited the trainers with getting faster in the offseason. He even equated running backs workouts to track workouts.

Yesterday was another case where special teams coach Derek Sage was given more credit for improvements on the team. Irby mentions they are focusing more on “details, details, details”, and “it’s the little’s how we do all things”. It has helped on kick and punt returns and it looks like Sage is running the show.

Yesterday’s fun fact is that Irby is also a musician and has focused most recently on the tenor saxophone. He actually attended a music conservatory and performing arts schools from third grade through high school. He credits his mom for retaining a love of music.

Thanks again to UCLA Athletics for yesterday’s player interviews.

Finally this morning, have you signed up for the new SB Nation Fan Pulse yet? The plan is to have our own Bruins Nation Top 25, but we can only do that if we get enough signups. Right now, we need more sign-ups. So, please sign up now if you haven’t already.

Go Bruins!