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It's all about winning now, UCLA's Chip Kelly says, not about preparing for the future

Chip Kelly might describe some of the narratives surrounding his first UCLA offense as fake news.

The notion that quarterback Wilton Speight is as mobile as a statue?

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“It’s a big misconception that Wilton can’t run,” Kelly said Wednesday. “He’s one of our faster guys. He runs over 20 miles an hour.”

The idea that Kelly is playing several true freshmen to position the Bruins for success in 2019 and beyond?

“It’s got nothing to do with putting anybody in position for the future,” Kelly said. “Everything’s about winning now.”

The belief that the coach is obsessed with tempo?

“I don’t care about our tempo,” Kelly said. “I care about, are we having production?”

On the latter matter, Kelly has readily conceded his team is struggling amid an 0-3 start. The Bruins are averaging only 4.5 yards per play, ranking No. 103 in the nation. They are scoring 19 points per game, ranking No. 115.

The run and pass games have been equally bad while contributing to an offense averaging 344.5 yards per game, No. 110 in the nation.

Kelly has dubbed this Improvement Week for a team in need of upgrades across the board as it prepares for its Pac-12 Conference opener against Colorado (3-0) on Sept. 28 in Boulder.

One change could come at quarterback. Speight, a graduate transfer who has not played since the season opener against Cincinnati because of a back injury, appeared to be progressing in his recovery Wednesday. He participated in a rollout drill with the other quarterbacks for the first time since he was hurt, indicating that he was closing in on a possible return.

Kelly intimated that any impression he devised one offense for Speight and another for true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson — who’s widely considered the better runner among the two quarterbacks — was not true.

“There isn’t much difference between our offensive scheme when Wilton’s in and when Dorian’s in,” Kelly said.

There may be a shakeup along the offensive line with Boss Tagaloa set to return from a three-game suspension he recently completed for violating unspecified athletic department rules. Tagaloa, who had been playing center, shifted to right guard Wednesday, with Justin Murphy moving from right guard to right tackle. That left Jake Burton, who had been playing right tackle, as the odd man out on the first team.

The line’s inability to provide sustained pass protection or open holes for the run game have been ongoing problems. But the offense’s struggles can also be pinned on widespread assignment breakdowns and mental mistakes that have prevented the Bruins from finding any sort of rhythm.

“We just need to be more consistent,” freshman receiver Kyle Philips said. “That’s pretty much it, I would say. Coaches come up with a great game plan every day and we just need to stick to it and be more consistent and play harder.”

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Belief in Kelly’s plan does not appear to be an issue despite the lack of tangible results.

“I mean, it may be a little bumpy right now, but we’ve just got to keep pushing, keep working,” freshman tailback Martell Irby said. “Coach Kelly always talks about ‘the process’ and not focusing so much on the results but focusing on every single little thing that we’re doing wrong. And once we start correcting that, then we’ll start getting the results.

“But we’ve got to focus on the seeds that are being planted, and then we’ll begin to bear fruit.”

UCLA coach Chip Kelly looks over his play sheet during a game against Fresno State on Sept. 15 at the Rose Bowl.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly looks over his play sheet during a game against Fresno State on Sept. 15 at the Rose Bowl. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Men in motion

No, the Bruins are not playing a game of “Ring Around the Rosie” during timeouts. The players who step onto the field to perform a series of jumping jacks and other exercises while moving in a circle are just staying warm in case they’re needed.

“If they don’t get X amount of reps,” Kelly said of his players, “the strength and conditioning guys get them up and get them warmed up a little bit, just in case someone gets injured they haven’t been standing there for 35 minutes and haven’t done anything.”

Etc.

One major factor in UCLA’s lagging kickoff return game is a lack of opportunities. They have fielded only two kickoffs, for an average of 18 yards per return. “A lot of times you can say, ‘Hey, we’re going to get a lot of things from a kickoff return,’ but you can’t control that,” Kelly said. “If the kid kicks it three, four, five, six, seven yards deep in the end zone, we’re not going to take those out.” … Kelly said receiver Christian Pabico would not practice this week because of a leg injury suffered against Fresno State, though his availability for the game against Colorado was unclear. … Linebackers Je’Vari Anderson and Elijah Wade were wearing yellow jerseys in practice to denote they were recovering from injuries.

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