Ethan Garbers in driver’s seat for backup quarterback job
UCLA began game week preparations early Friday, eight days before its season opener against Hawaii, and revealed a change in the quarterback depth chart.
Transfer Ethan Garbers appears to be the No. 1 option as the No. 2 quarterback, surpassing incumbent backup Chase Griffin. Griffin was one of four quarterbacks who started practice in black scout team jerseys Friday while Garbers and starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson were the only signal-callers in their traditional blue jerseys.
Griffin and walk-on quarterback Chase Artopoeus were dressed in the No. 12 scout jersey, meaning they’ve been tasked with mimicking Hawaii quarterback Chevan Cordeiro. About halfway through the media viewing period, Griffin went back to his blue No. 11 jersey.
Garbers, a redshirt freshman, is eligible to play this year after transferring from Washington, where he didn’t get any playing time in 2020. The Corona del Mar alumnus led the Sea Kings to CIF State and Southern Section titles with a 16-0 record as a senior. He passed for 5,034 yards and 71 touchdowns with just five interceptions along with 12 rushing touchdowns.
Despite Griffin’s experience at UCLA, where he played in four games last year with two starts and threw for 451 yards and six touchdowns, Garber’s rise seemed inevitable. Griffin, generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, is respected and well-liked by teammates and coaches for his work ethic and calm demeanor but doesn’t appear to have the physical attributes to make him a competitive starting quarterback at a Power 5 school.
Garbers, at 6-3, 210 pounds, fits that mold. And since joining the Bruins for spring workouts, Garbers is showing teammates on both sides of the ball he can produce on the practice field, too.
“He’s a gunslinger,” said sophomore receiver Logan Loya, who is also Garbers’ roommate. “He has a great arm.”
The redshirt freshman does more than just fire deep passes. He also has “really, really good touch on the ball,” defensive back Obi Eboh said.
“Especially on the deep ball and some of these go-routes,” Eboh added, “throws that I wouldn’t say a freshman would make consistently.”
— Freshman defensive lineman Quintin Somerville was seen with a walking boot on his right leg.
— Jon Gaines II continued to work with the No. 1 offensive line at center and Thompson-Robinson. Sam Marrazzo’s status is still unclear for the Aug. 28 opener against Hawaii.
— Brittain Brown lined up at the No. 1 running back, followed by Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet, who worked with the No. 2 unit.
Receiver Delon Hurt will probably miss all of 2021 season while court case plays out
UCLA senior wide receiver Delon Hurt will likely miss the 2021 season while his sexual assault case plays out in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Hurt appeared in the Norwalk Courthouse on Thursday morning as part of a procedural hearing in which attorneys agreed to hold the next court date Oct. 19 because of additional discovery items that need to be shared.
A preliminary hearing is expected to be held around November, with the trial likely not to start until early 2022, according to Joshua Ritter, Hurt’s defense attorney.
Hurt has been suspended from the team pending the outcome of the case in which he faces two felony charges stemming from an alleged November 2019 incident in Downey. He pleaded not guilty.
Offensive line depth could get tested with Sam Marrazzo’s injury
With six players who have starting experience returning, UCLA has one of the deepest offensive lines in the Pac-12. A lingering injury may force the Bruins to test that group early in the season.
Head coach Chip Kelly said Thursday he is “encouraged” by center Sam Marrazzo’s progress after missing spring camp with a leg injury, but is unsure when the redshirt senior will be 100% as he just recently started participating in contact drills and going against a defense. Marrazzo started all seven games at center last year.
“We need Sam back,” Kelly said before practice Thursday, the penultimate session of training camp before the team begins game-week preparations Saturday. “Sam’s kind of that extra coach on the field, he’s such a smart player and really anchors everything for us.”
With Marrazzo earning Pac-12 honorable mention last year, the Bruins rushed for 230.6 yards per game, which ranked second in the Pac-12 during the pandemic-shortened campaign. It was just the fourth time since 1990 that a Bruin team had achieved the 200 yards per game milestone for a season.
Marrazzo started at UCLA as a walk-on under the former coaching staff, but quickly gained respect from teammates for being one of the smartest players on the team. Offensive line coach Justin Frye, who took over the group when Kelly came in 2018, noticed immediately how quickly Marrazzo processed the scheme and implemented corrections.
Marrazzo needed to be told just once, maybe twice, and he got it.
“What’s ‘it’?” Frye said. “Everything, what we need the center to do, the understanding, and he just physically worked really, really hard to match that so he could get on the field.”
If Marrazzo is not cleared for UCLA’s season-opener against Hawaii on Aug. 28, the Bruins will likely turn to Jon Gaines II, who has been snapping at center for the starting offense during training camp. Gaines started four games at right guard last year and has the confidence of his coaches to line up at center.
“Jon’s done a great job,” Kelly said. “Jon’s another really, really smart football player. And we have some depth. Duke Clemens can play center. Bruno Fina has had a real good spring and camp so we think we’re four deep there. If we have to be.”
After making three starts at right guard last year, Clemens slots back into the position with Gaines at center with the No. 1 offense. Along with all their starters, the UCLA offensive line returned every player who rotated in off the bench. Most players are “plug-and-play guys,” Kelly said, who can shift between different positions, giving the Bruins additional security.
“That’s just a trend in the room,” Gaines said. “Versatility’s just a really big mantra we have. We all want to be able to step up and make my teammates proud, make myself proud and help the team win games.”
Diverse skill sets give UCLA plenty of options at running back
For a UCLA running back group trying to find its next star, there’s no bad blood between candidates. Only good competition.
The top contenders are Brittain Brown, a 6-1, 205-pound former Duke grad transfer, who rushed for 77.6 yards per game last year, and Zach Charbonnet, a 6-1, 220-pound bruiser whose speed and footwork shouldn’t be overlooked. The combination could be a powerful one-two punch for the Bruins, who need to replace do-it-all threat Demetric Felton.
“I promote competition in the room,” running backs coach DeShaun Foster said Tuesday. “So we’re always gonna have competition and they embrace it. I’m just excited I got two guys that embrace it, they work well with each other, and just hopefully we can carry on this into the season.”
UCLA ranked second in the Pac-12 in rushing and 12th nationally with 230.6 yards per game last year. Felton was the sparkplug, leading the Bruins in rushing while also ranking third in receiving yards per game and returning kicks. The 5-10, 200-pound prospect was drafted in the sixth round to the Cleveland Browns and had four catches for 44 yards, a special teams tackle, a kickoff return and a punt return in his NFL preseason debut last weekend.
Seeing the diminutive Felton have success has only set the table for more versatile backs to excel in Westwood, where speedsters like Keegan Jones and Kazmeir Allen are trying to follow in Felton’s footsteps.
“They just have a certain speed that is pretty exceptional and they can catch out of the backfield real well,” Foster said of Jones and Allen. “It’s just good now that I have a bunch of different styles, it’s not just one or two. I have a few different styles to play with.”
Allen, who came to UCLA as a state-champion sprinter, is making the jump to receiver, but still takes one-on-one coaching with Foster to keep his options on offense open. The Bruins also moved receiver Ethan Fernea to running backs, where he adds another pass-catching option.
Redshirt sophomore Christian Grubb is out after tearing his Achilles during the track season, Foster said. The Sherman Oaks Notre Dame alumnus has yet to appear on the football field for the Bruins but fits the mold as a multi-talented offensive weapon with speed as he won the CIF Southern Section Division 3 100 meters, 200 meters and triple jump as a senior.
In the final days of training camp, Foster sees intense focus from his running backs, who work quietly and mostly shun social media. They’re “throwback kids,” said the former UCLA and NFL star.
Foster is especially excited to see the UCLA debut of Charbonnet, a Michigan transfer. The Oaks Christian alumnus set the Michigan record for rushing touchdowns by a freshman with 11 in 2019, but said he’s relishing the opportunity to help elevate his hometown team. To be coached by a former Bruin in Foster makes it even more special, he added.
Said Foster: “I’m only gonna thank Michigan because I’m happy that he was able to come back home.”
— Defensive lineman Sitiveni Havili-Kaufusi was seen in the weight room wearing a large brace on his right leg.
— Kickers Nicholas Barr-Mira had one of his five field goal attempts blocked Tuesday while Luke Akers missed two of his four. Barr-Mira was blocked from about 40 yards, but recovered to hit two tries from longer distances. Akers pushed a 35-yard attempt wide and missed wide again from about 45.
UCLA enters final week of training camp
UCLA is entering its final week of training camp and head coach Chip Kelly is keeping the focus simple: “We’re just trying to get better on a daily basis,” Kelly said before Sunday’s practice.
The Bruins are scheduled to practice at least four more times before beginning game week preparations on Saturday. Kelly said almost all schemes are installed, but the training camp to-do list still includes repping plays and honing in on players’ strengths and weaknesses that will dictate how the offense will operate this season.
“We have the ability in our schemes to do a lot of different things,” Kelly said. “But you can’t do them all, you have to do what really fits the personnel best.”
— Linebacker Adam Cohen and receivers Colson Yankoff and Bradley Schlom were among those sidelined in the weight room and the stationary bikes. Receiver Chase Cota warmed up and stretched with the team in full pads, but spent some of the media viewing period working on individual conditioning. Linebackers Jordan Genmark Heath, Kain Medrano and Ale Kaho missed some position drills during the viewing period while doing exercises on the sideline, but returned to the field and rejoined the inside linebackers as reporters were leaving.
— Receiver Delon Hurt was “unavailable” for practice Sunday.
— Kickers Nicholas Barr-Mira and Luke Akers combined for a perfect nine-for-nine day on field goals. Barr-Mira hit five tries, including a long of about 45 yards. Akers followed with four tries and a long from about 43.
— Jon Gaines II continued to take starting center snaps through walk-throughs. He was also paired with Dorian Thompson-Robinson during the period focused on quarterback-center exchanges.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson returns to UCLA practice
Dorian Thompson-Robinson is officially available.
After missing eight practices, the quarterback returned to the field Friday and jumped right back into drills like he never left. The senior has been out since Aug. 3 with the only explanation from UCLA that he was “unavailable.”
“He came out, hit his stride like he normally does,” tight end Greg Dulcich said. “Just great having him, great chemistry with him out there and I think the guys underneath him did a great job filling his role and just rolling with the punches.”
With Thompson-Robinson back on the field, the Bruins had all of their quarterbacks in action Friday.
While the quarterbacks were at full strength, some key defensive players were sidelined. Linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath observed practice on the field while dressed in just his jersey and shorts and safety Quentin Lake was working on the sideline on individual conditioning with linebacker Kain Medrano.
— Reporters were given the rare opportunity to move across the field and see the offense on Friday, which provided a view of Jon Gaines II taking the majority of the snaps as the starting center during the open viewing period. The versatile offensive lineman started at guard last year, but with Sam Marrazzo possibly still working back to full strength after missing most of spring with an injury, Gaines led the top offensive line through the walk-through period and worked exclusively with Thompson-Robinson on handoffs during the session focused on the quarterback-center exchange. Marrazzo still participated in drills and was paired with Ethan Garbers.
The top offensive line with Gaines at center also included Alec Anderson at right tackle, Duke Clemens at right guard, Paul Grattan at left guard and Sean Rhyan at left tackle.
— Receiver Logan Loya returned to the field after being limited to the exercise bike this week.
— Linebacker Adam Cohen and receiver Bradley Schlom were on the stationary bikes.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson not seen at UCLA practice again
UCLA hasn’t given a reason for Thompson-Robinson’s absence, but coach Chip Kelly said last week that it shouldn’t affect his preparation for the season.
The Bruins weren’t in full pads Wednesday after practicing in pads Tuesday. During the open portion of practice, they worked on punt blocks along with some positional drills.
Wide receiver Colson Yankoff, who suffered an injury during spring practice, was unavailable Wednesday, according to Chip Kelly. Asked about the team’s vaccination status for COVID-19, Kelly said that 98% of the players are vaccinated, with a small group that has received a waiver. If a vaccinated player tests positive, they will miss 10 days.
UCLA has grown into one of the most experienced teams in the Pac-12 with coach Chip Kelly’s first recruiting class entering its senior year.
“The whole team is, you’re either vaccinated or you have a waiver right now,” Kelly said. “There’s nobody that we’re waiting to hear about.”
Redshirt junior Kazmeir Allen has been working with both the running backs and receivers during camp. Allen has played as a running back during his first three seasons at UCLA, but has 14 career receptions as well. Kelly sidestepped a question about whether Allen is being coached by running backs coach DeShaun Foster or receivers coach Jerry Neuheisel, saying the answer depends on which group he’s working with at a given time.
“He does individuals with the wideouts because he’s done individuals with the running backs for three years,” Kelly said. “He can play both positions for us and will play both positions for us.”
Bruins get back to work in full pads
After taking Monday off, the Bruins returned to the field in full pads on Tuesday. It’s the first of four straight practice days, which is their longest stretch of consecutive days on the field during camp so far. Outside linebacker Devin Aupiu practiced in full pads for the first time after the freshman transfer was working through the acclimation period.
Quarterbacks Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Parker McQuarrie were not on the field during the media viewing period for the sixth straight practice.
Receivers Chase Cota, Logan Loya and Bradley Schlom warmed up and stretched with the team but spent the rest of the viewing period on riding the stationary bikes and working out in the weight room. Long snapper Beau Gardner was also see in the weight room.
Offensive lineman Josh Carlin actively participated in practice after being limited to exercise bikes and weight room over the weekend.
For the first time this training camp, kickers Nicholas Barr-Mira and Luke Akers missed a field goal attempt in front of reporters. Barr-Mira was four-of-five on Tuesday, missing a 45-yard try. Akers pushed a 37-yard kick wide, but recovered to make a 42-yard attempt that put his daily tally at three-of-four.
‘Extremely old in a good way’: How UCLA football’s experience compares in the Pac-12
Chip Kelly’s first recruiting class signaled the beginning of a new era for UCLA football. The 2018 group headlined by quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson signed with immense promise and high expectations but carried a large warning label.
Some assembly required.
Three years of program building later, the Bruins have grown into one of the most experienced teams in the Pac-12 with Kelly’s first recruiting class entering its senior year. The table is set for what should be their long-awaited breakout season.
“We’re all old now,” senior offensive lineman Jon Gaines II said. “It’s on us to have the standard that we hold ourselves to. … The time is now.”
Views from Sunday’s practice
New NCAA rules prevent teams from practing in full pads on back-to-back days so UCLA scaled back to just shoulder pads for Sunday’s session.
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was still absent from the field, along with Parker McQuarrie.
Receiver Chase Cota, who was a consistent presence on the exercise bikes in recent days, was not seen on the sideline Sunday, but may have been in the weight room, where offensive lineman Josh Carlin was spotted working out. Logan Loya and Bradley Schlom were riding the stationary bikes during practice.
Kickers Nicholas Barr-Mira and Luke Akers combined for another perfect day on field goal kicks. Barr-Mira made all five of his attempts with his longest coming from about 45 yards.
UCLA does not practice Monday and will return Tuesday for four straight practices.
Chip Kelly impressed with transfer QB Ethan Garbers’ ‘competitive accuracy’
Head coach Chip Kelly met with reporters before UCLA’s seventh preseason practice to break down the team’s depth at offensive line and running back, evaluate quarterback Ethan Garbers’ game and talk about freshmen who have impressed him so far.
Kelly maintained that quarterbacks Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Parker McQuarrie are unavailable, leaving Chase Griffin, Ethan Garbers and freshman Kajiya Hollawayne as UCLA’s only scholarship signal callers for the last few days.
Griffin led the No. 1 offense in a brief walk-through period during Saturday’s media viewing period. The redshirt sophomore won over UCLA fans last year with his even-keeled demeanor during two starts while Thompson-Robinson was placed in quarantine because of contact tracing, but Garbers could have a legitimate chance to take over the backup position.
Garbers, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound transfer from Washington, certainly has a more prototypical frame to play for a Power 5 school compared to Griffin, who is generously listed at 5'10". Garbers led Corona del Mar to the CIF Southern Section Division 3 and the CIF State Division I-A championships in 2019.
The Sea Kings’ success under coach Dan O’Shea gave Garbers a solid foundation, Kelly said, and now it’s “just a matter of him just getting comfortable every day with what we’re doing here.”
Defensive back Obi Eboh said he was most impressed with the redshirt freshman quarterback’s touch, especially on deep passes. The sixth-year cornerback called Garbers is “a little playmaker.”
It’s not just the physical tools that stand out to coached, but its that Garbers combines accuracy and velocity with mature decision making.
“Sometimes when guys have really strong arms ... it doesn’t matter what the coverage is, they think they can get the ball in there,” Kelly said. “I just think he’s really smart and makes really good decisions in there.”
— Receiver Chase Cota returned to the stretch lines to begin practice Saturday but did not participate in any drills during the media viewing period. After stretching with the team, he returned to the stationary bike. He was joined on the sideline by Bradley Schlom, Josh Carlin and Logan Loya.
— Defensive lineman Quintin Somerville was seen working out in the weight room in a T-shirt and shorts, setting him apart from other injured players who were at least wearing their practice jerseys. Somerville, a freshman, is a four-star prospect.
— The team practiced in full pads Saturday except for Devin Aupiu, who is still working through the mandatory acclimation period. Aupiu was allowed to upgrade to just shoulder pads Saturday.
Ethan Fernea hopes to end UCLA career on high note after position change
Ethan Fernea wasn’t willing to settle for seven games playing during a pandemic.
With players given a chance to run it back after the shortened 2020 season, the sixth-year senior is trying to write a better ending to his UCLA career by pushing the Bruins to where they haven’t been in decades.
“I want to come back and try to win the Pac-12,” Fernea said Friday after UCLA finished its first week of fall practices. “That’s what we’ve all been dreaming about. I haven’t had too many opportunities to win a lot of games so it was definitely a no-brainer to come back and continue to play for UCLA.”
Fernea is one of just eight players still on the roster who played under former head coach Jim Mora and he has yet to be part of a winning season at UCLA. Since 2016, when Fernea appeared in one game on special teams as a freshman, the Bruins are 20-36.
While UCLA’s record has remained stagnant, Fernea’s role on offense has grown during his career. From the scout team to special teams to a backup receiver, Fernea broke through as a scholarship player in 2019 with the first starts of his career. He caught his first touchdown in 2019 and followed it with two catches and another score against USC in 2020.
This year, Fernea hopes to contribute on the ground as a running back. The Texas native moved positions in the spring after two carries and one rushing yard last year.
“It’s more of an instinctive position, I think, so it’s just fun to play football,” Fernea said of the change. “It reminds me of when I was a young kid playing running back in pee wee.”
To prepare for the new position, Fernea tried to pack on extra pounds that could help him block linebackers and defensive ends. The 6-foot senior is still listed at 195 pounds — the same playing weight from a year ago — but said he added about 10 pounds during the offseason.
Fernea brings a diverse skillset to the running back group that lost do-it-all threat Demetric Felton, Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet said. Fernea can run downhill and is a strong receiver out of the backfield.
The stable of backs behind an experienced offensive line in head coach Chip Kelly’s run-heavy offense have the Bruins envisioning a potent attack that can carry UCLA to long-awaited new heights.
“It feels like there’s a little bit of magic in Wasserman,” Fernea said. “I think that everyone’s ready to start winning. I think we owe it to the fans; we owe it to everyone that’s supporting us. It’s been a long time coming.”
— Quarterbacks Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Parker McQuarrie were not seen on the field Friday as the team practiced in jerseys and shorts. It’s the third straight practice without Thompson-Robinson.
— Without Thompson-Robinson, quarterback Ethan Garbers was paired with starting center Sam Marrazzo during a brief period focused on quarterbacks taking snaps from under center. In the previous two days without the starting quarterback, Kajiya Hollawayne was taking snaps from Marrazzo during the period. Garbers has also changed his jersey to No. 4 after wearing No. 10. The No. 4 jersey once belonged to walk-on Blake Kirshner, who is in the transfer portal.
— Receivers Chase Cota and Logan Loya were seen on the stationary bikes during practice and offensive lineman Josh Carlin was in the weight room.
Transfers Jay Toia and Devin Aupiu getting acclimated at UCLA
This wasn’t how Chip Kelly imagined he would get Jay Toia and Devin Aupiu, but the UCLA head coach will take the talented freshman defensive linemen any way possible.
The Bruins are the early beneficiaries of changes of heart spurred, in part, by COVID-19 recruiting restrictions. Toia and Aupiu jumped to UCLA after they participated in spring practice at USC and Notre Dame, respectively. Toia took the field when the Bruins opened fall camp last week, while Aupiu enrolled in school Monday and completed his second practice in a UCLA uniform Wednesday.
Despite the short adjustment period, both transfers are impressing teammates.
“I love Devin,” defensive lineman Odua Isibor said. “He just got here, and he’s been a really great addition to our room. Always brings a smile to my face, always laughing. … Jay is another great guy. He’s hilarious, I am always joking around with him. And, he’s really smart, really strong, really fast and has great moves on the inside. He’s a pleasure to play with on the field.”
Toia, a 6-foot-3, 325-pound defensive tackle from Simi Valley Grace Brethren High, wrote on Instagram that he and his family “felt forced to make a major decision signing with USC based on limited information.” Prospects were unable to visit schools during the pandemic and coaches couldn’t travel to evaluate recruits.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Aupiu committed to UCLA in April 2020, but changed to Notre Dame in December. He was doing well in South Bend, Ind., Kelly said, but the Oxnard Pacificia High prospect just realized he wanted to be home. The Bruins welcomed him back with open arms.
“Always loved how hard he plays and love his upside,” Kelly said. “I think he’s going to be a tremendous college football player.”
While other transfers are immediately eligible, there are questions about Toia and Aupiu after they participated in spring practices for their first schools this year. Kelly said the staff will sort out any eligibility issues closer to the season opener against Hawaii on Aug. 28.
Transferring has become increasingly common in college football, but it’s expected to surge more in the coming seasons after 2021 high school seniors had to commit to schools without visits or in-person meetings with coaches. Like Aupiu and Toia, players could easily arrive to their chosen schools and realize the real-life experience doesn’t live up to the virtual presentation.
Throughout the process, the UCLA staff tried to highlight the benefits of their program and keep in touch with recruits as much as possible through video calls. But a webcam view of a player’s neck and shoulders don’t tell coaches the full story. Kelly said he hadn’t seen some freshmen, like Alabama natives Deshun Murrell and Christian Burkhalter, in person until they arrived on campus in June.
“But they’ve been great,” Kelly said of his recruiting class that was ranked 31st nationally by 247Sports. “If this ends up being our best recruiting class, then maybe we just do that all the time.”
— Wednesday was UCLA’s first practice in full pads, with the exception of Aupiu, who still has to work through a four-day acclimation period before practicing in full pads.
— Quarterbacks Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Parker McQuarrie were not on the field during the viewing period. Receiver Chase Cota remained on the stationary bike during the media viewing period. Receiver Logan Loya was seen working out in the weight room.
— Kickers Nicholas Barr-Mira and Luke Akers combined to make all their field goal attempts. Barr-Mira even drilled a 40-yard attempt after the coaching staff tried to ice him by delaying the kick. He then backed up and hit a 45-yard kick with ease.
Chip Kelly talks recruiting, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA’s depth
Head coach Chip Kelly spoke to reporters before practice Wednesday about quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, recruiting in the coronavirus era and what he’s seen from his team in the first handful of practices.
Thompson-Robinson missed his second straight day of practice Wednesday, but Kelly said he doesn’t anticipate the quarterback’s preparation for the season to suffer because of the absences.
“With Dorian, that kid works his tail off,” Kelly said. “He’ll be ready at the drop of a hat.”
Kelly only said the senior was “unavailable” and, since the team is still early in fall camp, the repetitions without the starting quarterback are split relatively evenly between the remaining signal callers. The Bruins had Chase Griffin, Ethan Garbers, Chase Artopoeus and Kajiya Hollawayne on the field Wednesday. Parker McQuarrie was also absent.
While the team practiced in full pads for the first time Wednesday, transfer defensive end Devin Aupiu was still in his jersey and shorts. Aupiu, who took the field for the first time Tuesday, must still go through the acclimation period, which includes walk-through days, then shoulder pads, before being allowed to put on full pads.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson misses practice Tuesday
Dorian Thompson-Robinson wasn’t seen at practice on Tuesday and the only explanation from UCLA was that the starting quarterback is “unavailable.” The vague phrase became UCLA’s catch-all reason for all absences during the past year so coaches wouldn’t have to distinguish between players missing time for coronavirus-related quarantines and injuries.
The Bruins were down a quarterback on Tuesday but added a defensive end in Devin Aupiu, who transferred from Notre Dame this week and immediately took the field. The 6-foot-5 Oxnard native has now completed the rare double recruiting flip by committing to the Bruins in April 2020 and decommitting before December’s early signing period and enrolling early at Notre Dame. He entered the transfer portal in June after spring practice and returned home. He is the second freshman to join the Bruins after taking part in another school’s spring practice this year, along with Jay Toia.
UCLA has added former USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast to its staff as an analyst. Pendergast has been with the team for several weeks, a UCLA spokesperson said. Pendergast is often seen on the practice field observing defensive players. He worked at USC for four seasons before being fired in 2019.
— Kickers Nicholas Barr-Mira and Luke Akers went a perfect eight-for-eight on field goal attempts Tuesday. Barr-Mira hit five kicks, the longest being around 44 yards with plenty of leg for an even longer try. Akers had three attempts.
— Quarterback Parker McQuarrie was also not seen at practice. Chase Griffin took over the No. 1 offense during walk-through periods.
— After Sam Marrazzo was seen in the weight room during Sunday’s media viewing period, the center returned to the field for drills Tuesday.
— Receiver Chase Cota and offensive lineman Josh Carlin were seen riding the stationary bikes during warm-ups and special team drills.
UCLA offense aims for top of the national charts
The inevitable result of hiring the former Oregon coach known for his revolutionary offense started to take shape in Westwood last year as the Bruins had one of the best offenses in the Pac-12. They ranked second in scoring, second in rushing and sixth in passing.
This year, the Bruins are aiming higher than just leading the conference.
“I feel like we can be one of the best offenses in the country,” wide receiver Kyle Philips said Sunday after UCLA’s third fall practice.
UCLA lost do-it-all threat Demetric Felton but returns every other starter on offense. Felton led the team in rushing with 111.3 yards per game, was third in receiving (26.5 yards per game) and returned kicks. In his place, the Bruins will turn to a deep running back group led by Brittain Brown, who averaged 77.6 rushing yards per game last year.
Players are also raving about Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet, who set the school record for rushing touchdowns by a freshman with 11 in 2019 but had just 19 rushing attempts as a sophomore. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Oaks Christian alumnus is eligible to play this year.
“He’s been absolutely killing it all camp,” Philips said of Charbonnet.
Staying true to Kelly’s history of dynamic run offenses, UCLA averaged 5.1 yards per rush during the seven-game 2020 season. It was the highest average for a season at UCLA since 1976 but still well below Kelly’s high standard.
At Oregon’s peak under Kelly, the Ducks averaged 6.7 yards per rush in 2011.
UCLA’s running game suffered at the end of Jim Mora’s tenure because of recruiting misses that resulted in a dangerously thin offensive line. Kelly said at Pac-12 media day that lack of depth on the offense and defensive lines were the biggest challenge he faced when taking over in 2018.
That time is now a distant memory.
The UCLA offensive line remained intact from last year, anchored by left tackle Sean Rhyan, a 6-5, 320-pound junior who is already turning NFL heads despite the pandemic-shortened sophomore season.
“There’s some monsters up there,” Brown said. “I just know that we’re one of the most athletic lines in the nation and we’re gonna take care of business. And they know that the run game is how we make our money and that’s what they love to do, so just gonna be running behind them guys all season.”
Sunday’s practice was the first in shoulder pads. The team will be off Monday. ... Wide receiver Chase Cota was among the players who didn’t participate in practice during the 20-minute viewing period. He was seen in the weight room, along with offensive linemen Sam Marrazzo and Siale Liku and defensive lineman Quintin Somerville.
Bigger, stronger, faster: UCLA benefiting from full offseason training
A year ago, Bo Calvert was strapping giant bags of rice to his back and taking hikes to exercise. The UCLA linebacker is thankful that time is over.
Along with in-person team meetings and meals, the Bruins are enjoying the benefits of a full slate of summer conditioning as pandemic restrictions ease entering the 2021 football season. Two days into training camp, the regularly scheduled conditioning program with first-year director of football performance Keith Belton has “made a world of difference,” Calvert said.
“It was tough during COVID, not being able to have a structured workout consistently and being able to have the strength staff here,” the senior said. “And I think coach KB has been able to really influence the guys here as far as getting them in shape and getting ready this year. … A lot of guys are a lot bigger, a lot stronger, faster.”
Belton replaced Frank Wintrich as the head of the strength and conditioning program in March. UCLA is Belton’s third Pac-12 stop as his résumé includes stints at Washington and USC, along with UNLV, Baylor, Wake Forest and Kansas. The former Syracuse fullback became famous for his rowdy sideline cheering, which featured constant jumping and towel-waving.
Belton’s energy has carried over to the Bruins, who are encouraged to “express ourselves” under the new strength staff, safety Quentin Lake said. Belton mixes business and fun during workouts that include loud music and regular dance breaks.
“He understands the player because he’s been there, but the biggest thing for me is he cares and he’s going to push you. That’s something that we needed,” said Lake, who was limited in spring with a leg injury but is back to full strength. “It’s not whether you’re a starter, a back-up, walk-on, scholarship guy, it doesn’t matter, he’s going to get on you regardless of your status and that’s one thing I appreciate because we needed that.”
While players are expected to navigate short breaks on their own, the pandemic’s extended interruption was unchartered waters for athletes across the globe. In addition to long hikes with weighted backpacks, Calvert would spontaneously pump out a set of lunges on sidewalks. Linebacker Caleb Johnson tried to stay in shape with push-ups in his room and running outside. After struggling with injuries during his junior college career, Johnson said his body is feeling much more prepared to take on the season this year after the summer training program.
Johnson’s debut season at UCLA was shortened by the pandemic after he transferred from Fullerton College. He still carved out a role as a starting linebacker in all seven games and led the team with 44 tackles and 5 1/2 sacks.
The senior lined up with the No. 1 defense again when training camp started this week, pairing with Notre Dame transfer Jordan Genmark Heath at inside linebacker. Calvert, who started at middle linebacker last season, is working on a possible transition to the edge to give the Bruins better position flexibility.
Genmark Heath is one of two transfers in the linebacker group, along with Ale Kaho, who transferred from Alabama. The new additions are already blending in seamlessly.
“It doesn’t even feel like they’re new to the program,” Johnson said. “They already pretty much know everything. … We have a real good group, everyone, even the younger guys just feel like we’re real mature.”
— Coach Chip Kelly said the Bruins are going “full speed ahead” with Jay Toia after the defensive lineman transferred from USC this summer. Kelly said the conversation about whether Toia will be eligible this year hasn’t come up after the freshman participated in spring practice with the Trojans. The 6-foot-3, 325-pound Toia is already a physical presence during practices.
— Running back Keegan Jones didn’t participate in practice on Day 1, but when asked of the junior, Kelly said simply he was “unavailable.” The vague phrase will likely be Kelly’s go-to explanation for any absence this season, carrying over a school policy from last year intended to mask any chances of revealing COVID-related absences.
— Offensive lineman Paul Grattan Jr., who faces criminal charges stemming from a bar fight in 2020, is still in good standing at UCLA and is practicing normally, Kelly said. Any team disciplinary action will stay internal, the coach added.
Chip Kelly says 98% of UCLA football players are vaccinated
Head coach Chip Kelly spoke to reporters for the first time during training camp on Saturday before UCLA’s second fall practice. The coach said he’s been counting the days since the team could return to some semblance of normalcy — it had been 504 days since the entire team gathered in the team meeting room — but stressed that the team isn’t out of the woods yet, even though 98% of players are vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We are still trying to be really conscious,” Kelly said. “And you just go back to the NC State baseball program. Making it all the way to the semis [of the College World Series] and all the sudden, they get hit and they can’t play in the championship game. So we still gotta be conscious. But it is good to be back out and doing somewhat close to normalcy.”
All UC students are required to get a COVID-19 vaccine to attend in-person classes, but there are exceptions for some medical or religious reasons, Kelly said. Some of his players have applied for waivers. The coach expects that by the time UCLA begins its season against Hawaii on Aug. 28, all of the players will be either fully vaccinated or been approved for waivers.
UCLA football opens camp with ‘no excuses’ and focus on winning
Whether it was injuries, a short roster or young players, UCLA always had a reason it was underachieving under Chip Kelly. That time is over.
“The biggest thing for us is we have the experience. There’s no excuses this year,” safety Quentin Lake said Friday after UCLA opened training camp on campus. “There never should be an excuse, but especially this year, there’s no excuses for any errors.”
Entering Kelly’s fourth year at the helm, UCLA returned all but two of its starters from last year, added several key transfers and benefited from the additional year of eligibility granted during the pandemic that allowed all four of the team’s 2020 graduate transfers to return. Expectations for a breakout season are high, especially after the global health crisis left a big “what-if” on 2020’s 3-4 record.
“I’m glad it’s all kind of behind us now and how the vaccine’s helped us all just get out here,” running back Brittain Brown said, emphasizing the importance of having a normal offseason complete with full-time weight room access and a regular strength and conditioning plan. “That was a big deal last year and people didn’t really pay attention to it and it kind of affected us in certain way.”
UCLA is one of several Pac-12 schools requiring all employees and students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 for in-person work or classes, but quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson told The Times recently “there’s a handful of guys on the team that aren’t vaccinated.” He didn’t know how his teammates would work around the campus requirement if they didn’t get the shot.
Vaccinated players enjoy perks like avoiding daily testing and getting to share meals at the facility. It feels almost like two years ago, Lake said.
Free from many of the protocols that complicated day-to-day life last season, the Bruins are focused on establishing making sure the “new normal” includes wins.
“We got 12 games and that’s what we want,” Lake said. “We want a long football season.”
— Running back Keegan Jones was seen walking around the field during the 20-minute observation period. Jones was wearing a hoodie under his jersey and didn’t participate in any drills.
— Bo Calvert was working with outside linebackers during defensive walkthroughs and drills while Caleb Johnson and Jordan Genmark Heath lined up as the starting inside linebackers. Genmark Heath is a graduate transfer from Notre Dame who played in 39 games in his first three years in South Bend, Ind., before sitting out the 2020 season.
— Russell Westbrook returned to his alma mater Friday after a blockbuster trade sent him to his hometown Lakers. Westbrook visited with UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond and spoke to football coach Chip Kelly on the field at Wasserman Football Center.