Michigan transfer Wilton Speight is not the prototypical Chip Kelly quarterback


Wilton Speight heard the same concerns about his potential fit in a Chip Kelly offense as everyone else.

He was a pocket passer. Built for a pro-style offense. Not mobile enough to thrive in the kind of high-speed spread system that Kelly intended to run in his first season as UCLA’s coach.

Kelly’s response? Why, he told the graduate transfer from Michigan that he would fit right in.


“One thing he stressed was, he said, ‘Look, we’re watching film right now of Nick Foles, we’re watching film of Sam Bradford, and this is what we’re going to do with you,’ ” Speight said Saturday at quarterback guru Steve Clarkson’s annual retreat at Palisades High, referring to two NFL quarterbacks not considered fleet of foot.

Kelly’s pitch, and an innovative approach that helped him go 46-7 in four seasons as Oregon’s coach, eased any lingering doubt. Speight decided to become a Bruin in mid-April after spending the previous three seasons at Michigan, where he was a teammate of UCLA tight end Devin Asiasi before Asiasi transferred prior to last season.

Speight had hoped to reconnect with Jedd Fisch, the Wolverines’ quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator during Speight’s first two college seasons before Fisch was hired as UCLA’s offensive coordinator prior to last season. Fisch departed for a job with the Rams after finishing the season as UCLA’s interim coach in the wake of Jim Mora’s dismissal, but he continued to recruit on the Bruins’ behalf when it came to Speight.

“As a coach, you can kind of sniff out the B.S.,” Speight said, “and he was able to do that and say, ‘Look, you’re getting what you see at UCLA and I think it’s the right fit,’ and I couldn’t have agreed more.”

Wearing baggy shorts and a white UCLA cap backward, Speight was a celebrity among the young quarterbacks who participated in a lengthy series of drills in near-perfect weather. But there are no assurances Speight will even be the Bruins’ starter next season.

He’ll have to beat out freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson, one of the nation’s most highly touted dual-threat prospects, and redshirt sophomore Devon Modster, who closed the season with strong performances against California and Kansas State.


“There’s talent in that quarterback room and I know Dorian, a good friend of mine, he’s coming in and he wants to play too,” Speight said. “Everyone wants to play. If you go into a room where everyone is pointing to one person and saying, ‘OK, you’re the guy,’ then that’s not really a quarterback room you want to be in.

“At the same time, I think with my experience and winning 14 or 15 games as a starter and bringing that experience and leadership into the QB room and the UCLA team as a whole, I’m excited about the season.”

But what if Speight loses the competition?

“I don’t really think like that,” Speight said. “I know you don’t really bring in a grad transfer to sit — that would kind of defeat the purpose of using up a scholarship — but at the same time I know I have to go in and perform.”

Speight twice won the job as Michigan’s starter, first as a sophomore in 2016. He completed 61.6% of his passes that season for 2,538 yards with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a team that won its first nine games before finishing 10-3 with a loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

Speight started Michigan’s first four games last season before suffering a serious back injury against Purdue. He said he’s fully recovered.

“I’ve never felt this healthy in my career, really since I got to Michigan,” said Speight, who was listed at 6 feet 6 and 240 pounds when he played for the Wolverines. “I was always banged up, and that’s part of football, but obviously when you break your spine, that’s a little bit different.”


Speight said he has spent the offseason improving his agility with trainers. He’s thrown to his new teammates during off-campus workouts and intends to do so on campus once his classes in the UCLA Graduate School of Education start next month.

“I’ve made a lot of changes and I’m looking forward to putting that on display,” Speight said. “If I need to pull the ball and run it a few times a game, I’m not a statue and that’s what I’ve worked hard on this offseason is becoming more agile and I’m ready for the challenge.”

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch