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2019 UCLA Football Spring Training Preview: Thompson-Robinson Looks To Build on 2018

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Thompson-Robinson looks to use a full off-season of preparation to help the Bruins take the next step.

NCAA Football: UCLA at California John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 season was definitely an interesting year at the quarterback position for UCLA. Let’s do a quick flashback before we look forward to this spring.

Flashback

In 2018, Spring Practice started with a group of UCLA quarterbacks of whom most thought only one in the group had a realistic chance to become starter and that was Devon Modster. Spring Practice progressed and concluded with the Spring Game and during that game it was clear that none of the quarterbacks that played exactly separated themselves from the competition especially Modster.

While the Spring Game was going on, there were two quarterbacks on the sidelines looking on who many thought could be the UCLA Bruins starting quarterback for the 2018 opening game, and those two quarterbacks were freshman-to-be Dorian Thompson-Robinson and grad transfer Wilton Speight.

Fast forward to Fall Camp and the “wide open” quarterback competition that ensued. There were daily questions for Chip Kelly about who was winning and his tiresome canned answers that the winner of the competition would happen “organically and authentically.”

Out of the competition, Wilton Speight emerged as the winner and he started the opening game against the Cincinnati Bearcats. During a drive in the second quarter, Speight scrambled and was tackled from behind. A defender landed on top of him and Speight headed to the sideline and never returned in that game. Heralded true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson took over and the Bruins eventually lost their opener.

The rest of the 2018 season for UCLA saw DTR starting in seven games and showing promise, but also growing pains. The argument regarding DTR’s progress or lack thereof raged for weeks.

Thompson-Robinson was then injured against the Arizona Wildcats on October 20th and Speight pretty much took over from there for the remainder of the season for the Bruins.

That look back helps set the stage to look forward. So what does the quarterback situation look like for the Bruins heading into Spring Training in 2019?

Who’s Gone?

Speight’s one year at UCLA will go down as a success for the plain and simple fact that he was able to lead the Bruins past the Southern Cal Trojans, 34-27.

Modster’s downfall from the expected 2018 starter to third-string quarterback to mid-season transfer left a sour taste in the mouths of many Bruin faithful. Many felt that Modster was never given a true chance to play under Kelly which, then, prompted him to announce his transfer in September and eventual signing with the UC Berkeley Golden Bears.

Who’s New?

Chase Griffin comes to Westwood with some worthy high school credentials. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior quarterback passed for 4,051 yards and 51 touchdowns during his senior season. Griffin completed 268 of 373 passes with just five interceptions, while rushing for 415 yards and eight touchdowns on 82 carries. Griffin also won the prestigious Texas Gatorade Player of the Year.

Griffin made the smart decision to enroll early at UCLA and this should help him gain some ground on the returning UCLA quarterbacks.

Griffin definitely seems to be one of those players that has “it.” He is smart, accurate, mobile, and proved in high school that he was a winner.

It will be interesting to see how he progresses during Spring Training. I could see Griffin potentially battling for the back-up quarterback spot and, depending on DTR’s early season results, I could also see Kelly possibly utilizing the redshirt rule this year with Griffin. That would then place him two years behind Thompson-Robinson.

Who’s Back?

There is definitely some excitement this year at UCLA when it comes to the quarterback position. While 2018 gave the Bruins a spirited quarterback competition with solid experience and youth, the 2019 quarterback group might not be as deep or experienced, but the expectations are extremely high.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson enter Spring Training as the prohibitive favorite to be the Bruins starter. 2018 was a great learning opportunity for him as he finished the season having gained experience as a starter with his first start coming on the road in Norman, Oklahoma against the Oklahoma Sooners where he completed 16 of 26 passes for 256 yards and 1 TD.

Thompson-Robinson finished the season with respectable numbers as a freshman but obviously plenty of room to grow.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s 2018 Statistics

Comps Atts Ints Comp. % Yards TDs Long Avg/Game Rating
Comps Atts Ints Comp. % Yards TDs Long Avg/Game Rating
112 194 4 57.73% 1311 7 65 131.1 122.28

That growth should be aided by the fact that he has taken part in off-season workouts and will take part in his first Spring Training.

One area of growth that will be of particular interest is his accuracy. During the 2018 season he only completed 57.7% of his passes. He will have to improve those numbers significantly this year.

Another thing that observers wanted to see was a physically stronger DTR and, by the early looks of his frame, the transformation has already started.

The overall development of Thompson-Robinson this year will obviously go a long way in helping to predict the success of this year’s team. With uncertainty and competition being the hallmark of last year’s Spring Training, let’s assume that Thompson-Robinson is the favorite to start at the quarterback position heading into Spring ball.

The rest of the UCLA returners at quarterback don’t exactly have a lot of experience, not counting the fact that redshirt junior Matt Lynch did see action in all 12 games last year as the holder on placekicks.

If we combine Lynch, redshirt sophomore Austin Burton, and sophomore Josiah Norwood they have combined to complete 2 of 3 passes for 11 yards, including a touchdown. Those stats all came from Lynch during the 2017 season.

I would definitely expect Lynch and Burton, who worked as the scout team quarterback last year, to show progress this Spring and predict that they will be battling to backup Thompson-Robinson this year.

Outlook

With all of that being said, let’s make no mistake, one of Chip Kelly’s top priorities starting this Spring is taking a group of unproven quarterbacks that sat behind Speight and Thompson-Robinson last year and making sure that he finds a back-up.

Here’s the expected Spring Training Roster of quarterbacks:

2019 UCLA Football Spring Training Expected QB Roster

Number Name Height Weight Year (as of Fall 2019)
Number Name Height Weight Year (as of Fall 2019)
7 Dorian Thompson-Robinson 6'1" 205 Sophomore
12 Austin Burton 6'2" 196 R-Sophomore
15 Matt Lynch 6'4" 214 R-Junior
17 Josiah Norwood 5'8" 165 R-Freshman
TBD Chase Griffin 5'11" 190 Freshman