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UCLA Football: Spring Practice Opens Today with Chip Kelly on the Hot Seat

It’s put up or shut up time for Chip Kelly. How will the Bruins respond this Spring?

NCAA Football: Fresno State at UCLA
Chip Kelly’s third Spring Practice in Westwood begins this morning.
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Are you ready for some football?

This morning, the UCLA Bruins football team kicks off Spring Practice with a morning session which begins at 8:00 am PT. It’s the first of six sessions in March before the team takes some time off for finals and Spring break. Spring Practice will then resume on Tuesday, March 31 and culminating on Saturday, April 18 when the team holds the annual Spring Preview.

Here’s the complete Spring Practice schedule (subject to change):

2020 UCLA Football Spring Schedule
Session 1: Tuesday, March 3 – 8 am
Session 2: Thursday, March 5 – 8 am
Session 3: Saturday, March 7 – 9 am
Session 4: Tuesday, March 10 – 8 am
Session 5: Thursday, March 12 – 8 am
Session 6: Saturday, March 14 – 9 am
Final Exams & Spring Break
Session 7: Tuesday, March 31 – 8 am
Session 8: Thursday, April 2 – 8 am
Session 9: Saturday, April 4 – 9 am
Session 10: Tuesday, April 7 – 8 am
Session 11: Thursday, April 9 – 8 am
Session 12: Saturday, April 11 – 9 am
Session 13: Tuesday, April 14 – 8 am
Session 14: Thursday, April 16 – 8 am
Session 15 (Spring Preview): Saturday, April 18

What’s New

There are plenty of changes for the Bruins this Spring. Most of them will occur on the roster. But if you’re looking for an actual copy of the Spring roster, you may not get that until the day of the Spring Preview if the team follows what’s been done in each of Chip Kelly’s first two seasons.

There are two new coaches. Brian Norwood is UCLA’s new defensive backs coach and he was joined yesterday by the Bruins’ new defensive line coach Johnny Nansen. Nansen comes to Westwood after spending the past six seasons working for crosstown rival Southern Cal. While there, he spent two seasons coaching running backs and special teams and four more coaching linebackers. Before that, he spent five seasons at Washington where he coached the defensive line for three years and the running backs for two.

Nansen replaces Vince Oghobaase who left Westwood to join the staff at Boston College.

Key Position Battles

1. Quarterback: Colson Yankoff didn’t transfer from Washington to ride the pine and the reports were that Yankoff might have been the Bruins’ starter last season if Washington hadn’t blocked him from playing immediately. Dorian Thompson-Robinson will have to step up his game significantly if he wants to keep the starting job heading into the Fall.

2. Linebackers: UCLA has lost a lot of talent among the linebackers due to graduation. That means that the younger guys and the new guys will need to step up.

3. Running Backs: The graduation of Joshua Kelley opens up a starting spot at running back. While Demetric Felton returns, he isn’t really built to be the every down back that Kelley was. That means that there will likely be a battle to fill the role that Kelley filled the past two seasons. It looks to be a battle between Kazmeir Allen and Martell Irby, but Jahmon McClendon could be the dark horse here.

Who’s Back

There’s only one person I’m going to mention here who’s back. Yeah, you guessed it. Defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro is back for another season running Kelly’s defense, although no one knows why. There’s no sugarcoating the fact that Azzinaro’s defense last year was awful and that he should have been fired.

Over the weekend, Ben Bolch of the LA Times quoted Dan Guerrero in an article about Azzinaro’s new contract, which actually includes a $50,000 raise to $700,000. Guerrero said:

[W]e hired the football coach to run the football program and our jobs are to be supportive of that endeavor. Ultimately, the coach will make those decisions that he feels are best for the program and we will be supportive of that.

That’s one of the weakest quotes Guerrero has ever given and it’s a sorry excuse for him not doing his job and not approving the renewal of Azzinaro’s contract. When your head coach is 7-17 over two seasons, you don’t let him keep underperforming coaches on his staff. You insist on changes and Guerrero failed to do that.

The lone consolation is that all of UCLA’s assistant coaches have been given two-year extensions except Azzinaro. Azzinaro was only given a one-year extension.

Well, given Kelly’s current trajectory and unless he manages to really turn things around, both Kelly and Azzinaro may not be coaching in Westwood this time next year.

Thankfully, it won’t be Guerrero who makes that decision next Fall. Hopefully, the next AD’s decision isn’t overly influenced by Guerrero’s budget mess.

Kelly might have been better served replacing Azzinaro with UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin. At least, his guys play defense.

Yes, it’s still basketball season.

Go Bruins!