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UCLA Sports

Chip Kelly pleased with UCLA’s progress in spring football practice

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UCLA defensive end Datona Jackson pushes his way past a tackling dummy during spring practice drills on April 4.
(Steve Gazzullo / For The Times)

The UCLA football program held its eighth spring practice Thursday morning and beforehand second-year head coach Chip Kelly expressed approval of the team’s performance Tuesday in its first April practice following a two-week break.

“Same exact objective from the first half … we’re trying to improve every day,” Kelly said. “We were better in training session 7 than we were in 6. As far as the break goes, it broke the way it broke because of our schedule. You can’t practice during finals and you can’t practice during spring break, so it was a nice break. It’s kind of like having an open date in the regular season. They came back and were picking up right where we left off so I thought they did a really nice job.”

Asked how the defensive backs looked on tape, Kelly replied: “They’re good. We’ve got some veterans back there in Darnay [Holmes] and Quentin [Lake]. … Stephan [Blaylock] has played a lot of snaps as have Elijah [Gates] and Jay Shaw and obviously with [Adarius] Pickett and [Nate] Meadors gone there’s a little bit more playing time to be distributed to some of those other guys. We’re pleased with where they are right now.”

Kelly confirmed that Keisean Lucier-South, a redshirt senior who played in all 12 games as an outside linebacker last season, will miss the rest of the spring in order to concentrate on academics. Kelly is glad to have incoming freshman linebacker John Ward, who still had finals to take at the beginning of January, but enrolled for the spring term.

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“It’s the same thing Chase Cota did last year — it all depends on when they can get out of high school,” Kelly said. “He looked good Day 1. He’s obviously been trying to figure out where to go … real smart kid. We’re excited to get him out here.”

Griffin gets to throw

Limited to drills because of a wrist injury in the first half of spring ball, freshman quarterback Chase Griffin threw passes for the first time Tuesday.

“He’s been throwing, we just kind of have him on a pitch count. That has been the plan all along,” Kelly said. “It’s always advantageous to have your quarterback throwing.”

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Walk-on Josiah Norwood switched from quarterback to wide receiver. Matt Lynch changed from quarterback to tight end earlier this spring.

Better comfort level

Kelly believes sophomore running backs Kazmeir Allen and Martell Irby are getting more comfortable in the offense after being thrown into the mix as freshmen.

“I lost a little bit of weight during the season, but I’ve been getting it back up,” said Allen, who is 178 pounds now and hopes to be 185 by the start of the season. “I feel a lot more comfortable. Last year coming into the summer I was pretty nervous. I approach practice the same way … I just come out here and try to compete. I try to improve my vision, ball security. I think we’re doing very well. I’m excited to go out and play with these guys. I’m striving to score but sometimes it just doesn’t happen.”

Allen and Irby have someone to look up to in senior Joshua Kelley, who rushed for a team-high 1,243 yards and 12 touchdowns and caught 27 passes for 193 yards in 2018.

“The main thing in the offseason was leaning out, trying to getting faster and being able to move more,” said Irby, who weighed 209 in June but is now down to 197. “I’m comfortable where I’m at. I did OK last year but now looking back I see how much more I can be doing in this system so I’m taking what I knew and trying to change the mind-set to really help the team instead of just trying not make a mistake.”


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