Some hints about the way UCLA might play under Chip Kelly next season emerged from his first recruits.
At 6 feet 3 and 360 pounds, defensive tackle Atonio Mafi is a space eater who could anchor a 3-4 defensive alignment. Linebacker Bo Calvert features the blend of speed and toughness needed in an attacking defense. Tailback Kazmeir Allen is the sort of shifty runner who thrives in a spread offense.
The first eight recruits to sign letters of intent as part of Kelly’s initial class appeared to be classic players for his system.
“They all have the qualities we’re looking for in terms of what we’re going to be doing scheme-wise,” Kelly said Thursday in his first meeting with reporters since being introduced as the Bruins’ new coach 3½ weeks ago. “I was really, really excited that we had a chance to get them, especially in this early period. It’s a great group, a great foundation to build upon.”
Kelly said he spent his first week at UCLA on campus evaluating recruits from the Bruins’ existing database of prospects. The need to complete those evaluations before going on the road recruiting was necessary because Kelly spent last season as an ESPN analyst and had not coached at the college level since his final year at Oregon in 2012.
“I was just here, going through, trying to make the proper evaluation so that we’re recruiting the right guy,” Kelly said, noting that he assessed character and academics as well as ability, “because it’s not fair to the student-athlete or us if we got a guy who’s not going to fit here and all of the sudden, he’s here for a year and it’s not the right fit and he’s gotta go look for another school and we gotta look for another guy.”
Some of the players who signed were already well known to the Bruins. Kelly said receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty had been recruiting Kyle Phillips, Bryan Addison and Chase Cota long before Kelly’s arrival as the replacement for Jim Mora.
Kelly said there was a chance the Bruins could receive more letters of intent during the new early signing period that runs through Friday. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, widely considered the jewel of the recruiting class, has said he would participate in the traditional signing day in February.
Kelly said one aspect of recruiting that was unique to UCLA was making sure prospects could pass through the school’s rigorous admissions requirements, which necessitated “a real thorough transcript read.”
“Sometimes guys will sign places that other schools — not here — they don’t know if they can get them in or not and you always see they’re oversigning their class because somebody didn’t qualify academically,” Kelly said. “We have to make sure that these guys academically are qualified so that they can be admitted here because it’s not fair to try to sign somebody and you’re not sure if you can get them into school.”
Kelly said he didn’t sell UCLA in his recruiting efforts, which entailed educating prospects on what the school had to offer and trying to assess whether it was the right fit.
“I think one of the reasons I chose this place is because [recruits] understand the rigors that this place has academically,” Kelly said. “They also understand the opportunities that they’ll have when they graduate from here with a degree.”
Recruiting has been based on numbers instead of evaluations of current players, Kelly said. For example, since the Bruins have four scholarship quarterbacks on their roster, Kelly said, he knew he could add only one more to avoid a shortage of players at other positions.
Kelly also must complete his coaching staff but said the final hires would not necessarily need to be in place before the next recruiting period begins in January.
“The goal is to make sure that we have the proper staff in place,” Kelly said, “so whatever that timeline is will be organic.”
Interim coach Jedd Fisch said quarterback Josh Rosen’s availability to play in the Cactus Bowl against Kansas State on Tuesday at Chase Field in Phoenix remained unknown as doctors continued to evaluate his recovery from a concussion suffered against California last month.
It was the second concussion Rosen suffered this season after also being knocked out of a game against Washington in October.