Five things to watch during UCLA’s training camp
Introductions are out of the way.
Chip Kelly has a firm sense of what his UCLA players can do heading into his second season. Just as important, those players know what to expect from the methodical coach whose idea of summer fun is whipping out his laser pointer to dissect game footage in an office.
“The knowledge of the playbook, the knowledge of the standard that needs to be held from everybody is there,” linebacker Krys Barnes said last week at Pac-12 media day. “We know what we need to do.”
In a word, that would be win.
The Bruins are coming off a 3-9 season that was the school’s worst since 1971, when it went 2-7-1 in coach Pepper Rodgers’ debut season. UCLA rebounded to go 8-3 the following season, the kind of bounce-back that would bring smiles to Westwood in 2019.
Kelly described the atmosphere heading into the start of training camp Wednesday as a “light years” difference from a year ago.
“Year 2 is going to be so much different than Year 1,” Kelly said, “just because we’ve been there, done that.”
Here are five questions the Bruins will try to answer during training camp:
Can a new playmaker emerge on offense?
Joshua Kelley’s 289 rushing yards against USC made him an instant Bruins legend. Receiver Theo Howard caught 51 passes and did not drop a ball thrown his way all season.
That duo won’t be enough to make UCLA’s offense more dynamic than the one that averaged only 24.6 points a year ago. Other big contributors must materialize to help take pressure off sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
Devin Asiasi is the leading candidate to take over as the featured tight end and receiver Jaylen Erwin, a junior college transfer, possesses the speed to become a reliable deep threat. Running backs Martell Irby and Kazmeir Allen are poised to build upon the promise they showed as freshmen.
“We’re going to have to have some other guys besides Josh,” Kelly said. “This isn’t going to be a one-man show at the running back spot next year.”
Who will take over at left tackle?
Alec Anderson, a redshirt freshman, got the spring nod in the race to replace the departed Andre James at the most critical position on the offensive line.
But Anderson will have to fend off what’s expected to be a spirited bid from true freshman Sean Rhyan, the most highly touted of the Bruins’ incoming recruits, for immediate playing time.
Whoever wins the job will need to quickly mesh with the four returning starters on the line to help the team improve upon its spotty protection from a year ago, when it gave up 32 sacks (tied for eighth in the Pac-12).
Who will lead the pass rush with linebacker Keisean Lucier-South out?
Lucier-South, whose four sacks last season led the team, won’t be available until late September at the earliest while sorting out some academic issues.
The Bruins can’t wait for his return to start putting pressure on the quarterback. Among the candidates to fill the void, lineman Osa Odighizuwa has drawn raves from teammates for leading offseason workouts. Lineman Atonio Mafi continues the slim-down he started a year ago, making him a more formidable pass rusher.
Barnes should lead a deep and veteran linebacker corps that could restore luster to the position upon the return of Josh Woods and Je’Vari Anderson from injuries.
Will Josh Woods’ luck improve?
It can’t get much worse. The senior linebacker has had his last two seasons cut short by injury; a balky shoulder limited him to seven games in 2017 and a knee injury suffered in training camp last August wiped out his 2018 season.
Missing so many games had some unintended benefits, girding Woods for more time on the shelf once he hurt his knee. Kelly said Woods was over his latest injury before he reached the locker room.
“He was like, ‘All right, what do I gotta do and what’s the training process for me to be able to play next year and help?’ ” Kelly recalled. “It’ll be fun to see him if he can run out onto the field against Cincinnati [in the season opener] and actually get a chance to play for us.”
Woods has been fully cleared to resume practice after being limited in the spring.
Can Wade Lees put an end to all the whining about the special teams?
Lees gives new meaning to giving it the old college try. The 31-year-old Australian graduate transfer is among the oldest players in college football (Colorado kicker James Stefanou, another Aussie, is 32).
He’s also among the nation’s top returning punters, having averaged 40.9 yards last season as a third-year starter for Maryland.
Lees presumably will take over the spot vacated by the departed Stefan Flintoft, giving the Bruins a solid complement to senior kicker J.J. Molson.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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