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UCLA Sports

UCLA quarterback competition has a presumed favorite, but no runaway standout

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson throws in practice on July 31.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson throws in practice on July 31. Could Thompson-Robinson lose out to Austin Burton or Chase Griffin for the starting quarterback job?
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

There are only friends inside UCLA’s quarterback room. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Austin Burton and Chase Griffin give each other pointers and openly discuss what they saw while examining video footage of practice plays.

That’s not to say there aren’t limits to the camaraderie.

“At the end of the day,” Burton said Saturday, “it’s a competition.”

The starting job is presumably Thompson-Robinson’s to lose with 3½ weeks left before the Bruins’ season opener against Cincinnati on Aug. 29. The sophomore is coming off a season in which he started seven games, and he has worked exclusively with the first team during the portion of training camp practices open to the media.

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Still, the bid to take the season’s first snap hasn’t felt like a runaway.

Burton, a redshirt sophomore, has shown improved command of the offense while impressing teammates and coaches with his increased confidence. Griffin, a freshman, no longer has the wide-eyed look of a newcomer after having fully recovered from the shoulder injury that limited his participation in spring practices.

UCLA cornerback Darnay Holmes has shown a remarkable prowess on the field that is only match by his ability to excel in the classroom.

“I just feel like I’m in my own skin,” Griffin said, “I’m able to throw how I want to throw now and I get better each day.”

Burton has the edge in experience going into his third college season, as well as the closest brush with greatness. He has spoken with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and received a video shout-out from Kyrie Irving when the All-Star point guard still played for the Boston Celtics.

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Griffin once trained with former NFL quarterback Vince Young and received his own video tribute recently from the Texas Longhorns legend. Even though he’s probably the long shot of the candidates to win the starting job, Griffin lumps himself in with Thompson-Robinson and Burton while discussing the possibilities.

“They want to go and I want to go,” Griffin said, “so we respect each other, we’re all pretty cool off the field too and when we get on the field we know it’s time to work, we know it’s time to push each other.”

UCLA’s top trio of quarterbacks has been joined recently by newcomers Colson Yankoff, Blake Kirshner and Chase Artopoeus. The Bruins are still waiting to learn whether Yankoff, a redshirt freshman who transferred from Washington, will be granted immediate eligibility.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly said Yankoff, who stands 6 feet 4 and weighs 209 pounds, was one of the fastest players on the team and raved about his potential after only a handful of practices.

“Colson can do some really big things,” Kelly said. “He’s done a really nice job, and he’s a really, really smart kid, so he’s picked things up very quickly.”

Joshua Kelley hurt

Running back Joshua Kelley made a brief appearance during the portion of practice open to reporters, walking stiffly with a full leg brace near one edge of the field.

It apparently wasn’t as bad as it looked.

Kelly said his top offensive player had “just got banged in the knee” and was considered day to day. It was the third consecutive practice Kelley had missed after getting hurt on Thursday.

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Kelley was the Bruins’ breakthrough star last season after transferring from UC Davis. After a slow start in which he carried the ball only 11 times over the first three games, Kelley topped the 100-yard mark in six of his team’s last nine games. His 1,243 rushing yards ranked No. 10 on the school’s single-season list and his 289 yards rushing against USC were the most by any player in the history of the rivalry.

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Running back might be one position where the Bruins can absorb an absence. Sophomores Martell Irby and Kazmeir Allen both showed promise last season, and the team fortified itself at the position with the arrival of freshmen Keegan Jones, Christian Grubb, Jahmon McClendon and Sitiveni Kaufusi.

“They’re all awesome,” Kelley said of his teammates during Pac-12 media day. “We have a ton of backs and they’re all versatile and all do different things. Like, for instance, we have Kazmeir Allen, who’s super shifty, fast, quick, complete; Martell Irby, he’s super strong, a great third-down back [and] he can do whatever you want him to do; and we’ve got Keegan Jones now who’s shifty, he’s a jitterbug. He can do it all too. We’ve got other new freshmen in the mix, so I’m excited about all those guys.”

Allen ran for 188 yards and one touchdown last season; Irby ran for 187 yards and one touchdown.

Etc.

The Bruins wore full pads for the first time in training camp and practiced for about 2½ hours, their longest session.


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