Let’s catch up on what’s happened so far at UCLA football fall training camp in this Jumbo Edition of the Spaulding Report.
Camp opened last Wednesday with 42 freshman and 6 transfers. When you take into account the fact that only 17 of the freshmen were a part of the recruiting class, it’s obvious that most of the freshmen are walk-ons.
On one hand, that could point to another season of growing pains but, on the other hand, as Ben Bolch of the LA Times notes, “the team features 10 returning starters on defense and eight on offense....”
Before last Thursday’s practice, UCLA Bruins’ Head Coach Chip Kelly met with the media. One of the things Kelly discussed was UCLA’s APR score. Kelly seemed to be a little quick to blame the situation on what happened under Jim Mora. Ben Bolch quotes Kelly:
The issue with the APR is it’s a four-year rolling thing that occurred before we got here, and you can’t go back. You can’t change something that happened in the class of 2014 because that’s just the way it is, so our job is to make sure that the classes from ’19 on continue to do a really good job academically, and as those numbers get added to the cohort, then hopefully your numbers will go up.
The thing is that Kelly conveniently deflected from the fact that the unusually large number of departures from the team which has occurred under Kelly is also a rather big contributing reason to the team’s poor APR as guys have left UCLA. Right after talking about only being able to control what’s happened since he got there, he flat out refused to accept responsibility for the drop being due to guys who left the program. Kelly would be better served by just admitting that a lot of guys have left the program and that could certainly be a contributing cause to the low APR number, rather than trying to blame things on “the class of 2014.”
In fairness to Kelly, the coaching staff is doing class checks on the players.
Coach Kelly’s first media session of camp like all of today’s videos are courtesy of UCLA Athletics.
Meanwhile, Elijah Gates and Darnay Holmes spoke with the media on last Saturday. Gates spoke about a lot of the new guys that have joined the DBs while Holmes spoke a lot about being able to graduate with his bachelor’s degree after just two seasons and less than three full years. They also addressed how the defense needs to develop chemistry and communication.
Kelly met with the media again on Sunday. He discussed Josh Kelley’s status after his knee was banged up a little, but he didn’t seem too concerned with the injury. He also spoke about grad transfer Jason Harris’ knowledge of the game. “He’s done a very good job of adapting to our system,” Kelly said.
The quarterbacks took front and center on Sunday. Austin Burton said that he is still developing and isn’t where he wants to be. He spoke about staying in the pocket is one of the areas where he’s working to improve. Chase Griffin spoke about how he’s now fully recovered from the injury which limited his reps during Spring Practice and he’s happy to be 100%.
Overall, Dorian Thompson-Robinson sounded like the offensive leader of this team. Thompson-Robinson was asked if he feels like he’s starting to live up to the potential that everyone has seen in him. Thompson-Robinson replied:
I guess that’s not up for me to determine. That’s up to my teammates and my coaches to determine but, yeah, I’d like to think I’m growing each and every day. I’m learning something new every day and putting it out to work out in the field and take in from the classroom to the field.
He also expressed a lot of confidence in the offensive line and spoke of his relationship with the guys on the line. “I love those guys,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I take care of them. They take care of me. Our relationship really grown this off-season.”
Sunday was the first day UCLA was in full pads, according to Ben Bolch of the LA Times.
Monday saw two defensive linemen speaking with the media. First up is Atonio Mafi, who spoke about how he’s dropped about 50 pounds since he first got to UCLA as well as the pass rush and pursuit by the defensive line. Osa Odighizuwa was the other player who spoke on Monday. Osa also echoed the fact that the defensive line is working on improving the pass rush, but he pointed out that the pass rush isn’t just about sacks. He emphasized that It’s also about being able to help the secondary by forcing pressure on the quarterback. Hopefully, the emphasis on improving the pass rush results in a better overall defense this season.
Ben Bolch provided an injury report at the end of his article on Monday’s practice. He writes:
UCLA’s defense suffered its first injury casualty of training camp. Linebacker Tyree Thompson was spotted wearing a yellow jersey in the weight room alongside injured running back Joshua Kelley during the portion of practice open to the media. Receivers Theo Howard, Michael Ezeike and Dymond Lee practiced while wearing yellow jerseys to signal they, too, were recovering from injuries.
But, it appears that Thompson’s injury was more serious than it may have appeared. That’s because, later on Monday, Thompson tweeted that he had had surgery.
On Wednesday, two offensive linemen met with the media. Boss Tagaloa, who really proved to be the glue of the offensive line last season after he took over as the starting center, spoke about the difference between last year and this year. He discussed how the guys on the line really seem to know what their responsibilities are and how they’ve progressed. He also mentioned how the backups have been helpful both with the offensive line as well as the skilled positions.
For instance, he mentioned that backup center Sam Marrazzo has been watching film with the quarterbacks and helping them identify things he sees.
Christaphany Murray also spoke on Wednesday. He echoed Tagaloa’s comments on the progress of the offensive line. He especially praised Tagaloa’s communication on calls. He also addressed the difference between last year and this year for him. Murray said:
I feel like I’m more tenacious...more confident and just more easier and easier in figuring out what I need to do. That first year, it was kind of cloudy with some of the things in. Now, it’s like I know what I need to do. So, now, what do I need to add up on top of that?
Ben Bolch noted that Josh Kelley “made his first extended appearance on the practice field since suffering a right knee injury last week.” He added that Theo Howard and Michael Ezeike were still wearing yellow jerseys.
Thursday saw Chip Kelly’s second media session of the week. On Thursday,Kelly began by discussing the fact that Tyree Thompson had surgery on his foot and announcing that he would miss the season opener. Ben Bolch mentions that Lokeni Toailoa filled the void at inside linebacker. Bolch also mentioned that backup center Sam Marrazzo was seen on crutches in the weight room.
There were a few questions asked about transfer quarterback Colson Yankoff and whether he will be eligible to play this year. Kelly addressed the issue by saying that, so far, Washington has blocked him from being eligible to play this season. While UCLA can appeal that to the NCAA, Kelly said that the NCAA tends to side with the school.
Of course, Kelly has shown that he doesn’t like to talk about hypotheticals and, so, when the reporters posed a few hypothetical situations about Colson, Kelly refused to go there.
He also refused to discuss the notion of joint practices with other schools because the NCAA doesn’t allow it. When pressed about whether it would be a nice way to break up the monotony of practicing against the same guys every day, Kelly responded by saying, “A Broadway play would break up the monotony. You can’t do either. So, we’re not gonna get on a plane in flight of New York City and we can’t scrimmage with other schools. So, we try to concentrate on what we supposed to concentrate on.”
Due to some technical issues, Thursday’s video of Chip Kelly is courtesy of Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the LA Daily News, instead of UCLA Athletics.
Tight ends Devin Asiasi and Matt Lynch spoke after practice on Thursday. Asiasi touched on a lot of different subjects. Overall, he seemed humbled to be included on the Mackey Award watch list because of the history of the award. He also spoke about some of the different talents that each of the tight ends brings to the table and how there are rather diverse talents among the group. For instance, he spoke about Greg Dulcich’s ability to split out wide and go up against a cornerback as well as Jordan Wilson’s blocking skills. He also spoke a little about how Caleb Wilson really kind of taught him about being a hard-working “lunch pail” kind of guy.
Matt Lynch discussed the changes he needed to make as part of his move to tight end. First, he is now wearing number 81 instead of the number 15 he has worn in previous seasons because the coaches want all the tight ends to be wearing numbers in the 80s. He also mentioned that he won’t be holding for JJ Molson this season. Instead, Wade Lees will now be holding on field goal and PAT attempts.
Lynch also explained that the nexus of his move to tight end actually came from a suggestion Josh Rosen had made to Jedd Fisch two seasons ago. He added that he’s added a lot of weight since last season, going from about 207 pounds to around 234 pounds.
He seems to be able to take the quarterback perspective with him to his new tight end role. He’s helped the other tight ends understand what a quarterback will want tight ends to do in certain situations and he’s also using that to his own advantage against linebackers.
That brings us to yesterday when Stephan Blaylock and Quentin Lake were inteviewed after practice. Both safeties spoke about mindset being one of the most important things for them. Blaylock spoke a lot about his mentality and how he learned that from last year’s starter Adarius Pickett. Blaylock said:
The deal with “Pic” was, on the field, he’s the physical person but, with me, he always told me, it was always about my mental because being a safety you’re like the quarterback of the defense. So, you really have to know everything and what everybody’s doing. So, mentality is the biggest thing he taught me.
Quentin Lake complimented Blaylock for his energy. Lake said:
The big thing Blaylock brings is energy. As a young kid coming up, actually filling the starting role, he brings a lot of energy and effort. Last year, he got a couple reps during the season, but I think, now during the offseason, he has a better grasp of the defense and like I said it brings a lot of energy and a lot of juice to the defense what I think is a big addition.
Like Blaylock, Lake says that the mindset of the unit is the greatest strength of the defensive backs this year. “Coming off during the offseason, we just had a passion and a different mindset going in,” Lake said “We were working twice...three times a day just trying to get better and we knew that we have the ability to be one of the top defensive back groups in the Pac-12 and in the nation. So, that was our mindset going into that.”
Since the team had today off, there’s nothing to report for today, but expect the team to resume practice on Sunday.
Finally, 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, it looks like we need a minimum of about 20 more sign-ups, but ideally about 70 more. So, please sign up now if you haven’t already.