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UCLA Sports

UCLA football opens practice with more players, but backup quarterback reportedly to transfer

UCLA running back Demetric Felton during a game against Cincinnati on Aug. 29, 2019 in Cincinnati.
UCLA running back Demetric Felton
(Tony Tribble / Associated Press)

UCLA started spring football practice with the largest pool of players in coach Chip Kelly’s three seasons, but the Bruins were down one significant contributor after the first day.

Backup quarterback Austin Burton, who participated in practice Tuesday, had entered the transfer portal, according to Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel, with plans to graduate this spring and be immediately eligible to play two more seasons.

The redshirt junior backed up starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson last season, filling in as the starter against Oregon State when Thompson-Robinson was sidelined by injury. Burton completed 27 of 41 passes for 236 yards in that loss to the Beavers and was steady all season, completing 68.8% of his passes for 365 yards and one touchdown without an interception. He also ran for 100 yards and a touchdown in 23 carries.

Burton was among six quarterbacks who took part in the Bruins’ first spring practice, joined by Thompson-Robinson and Washington transfer Colson Yankoff, among others. Burton’s departure leaves Thompson-Robinson as the only quarterback on the roster who has thrown a pass at the college level.

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Thompson-Robinson put plenty of zip on his passes and showed impressive poise in the practice session. Yankoff, who will be eligible to play this season after sitting out last year, floated a few passes but displayed the mobility that prompted some to label him one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks coming out of high school.

UCLA opens spring football on Tuesday looking to find some answers after consecutive poor seasons under coach Chip Kelly.

UCLA’s quarterback ranks will be bolstered in fall camp by the arrival of Parker McQuarrie, a highly touted freshman from New Hampshire.

The Bruins’ roster was so depleted when Kelly conducted his first spring practice two years ago that the coach stepped in as a quarterback and threw passes during some drills.

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Last year, the number of players barely budged. Sixty players participated in the spring, just more than half the team’s eventual roster.

That made the 99 players who reported for the start of spring practice Tuesday feel like an overflow crowd. There were enough bodies to get in plenty of repetitions for third- and fourth-stringers during team periods.

Kelly did not speak with reporters but indicated last month that the increased numbers would translate into more than improved depth.

“Those are things that will pay off,” Kelly said at the time, “in terms of how you’re going to start and how you’re going to play.”

Demetric Felton Jr. led a fleet of running backs bidding to replace star Joshua Kelley and said he welcomed the competition, particularly before the start of fall camp.

“It’s better to have more guys out here,” Felton said. “Just being able to get more of the team [accustomed] to what we have to do in the spring rather than jumping in after June.”

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Felton said he was open to doing anything to help his team, whether it meant becoming the every-down running back or being used in a variety of roles. He served as the on-campus host for graduate transfer Brittain Brown, the player who might be his top competition toassume Kelley’s spot after a promising career at Duke was beset by injuries.

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“He’s a big, strong runner,” Felton said of Brown, who won’t arrive until fall camp, “so, I’m definitely excited for him to come.”

Felton returned for his senior season after receiving NFL draft evaluations that he needed additional seasoning.

“I just really saw another opportunity for me to improve personally and help this team become better this season,” Felton said, “and that’s something that I really wanted to do and be a part of, so that’s why I decided to stay.”

The group of offensive linemen swelled literally and figuratively with the arrival of Atonio Mafi, a 360-pound converted defensive lineman. The Bruins need extra linemen with the departures of center Boss Tagaloa to graduation, guard Michael Alves to a medical retirement and guard Christaphany Murray to the transfer portal.

Somewhat ironically, the position that appeared short-handed Tuesday was one that was the deepest upon Kelly’s arrival. By the end of practice, walk-ons Greg Dulcich and Michael Churich were the only players working at tight end after sophomore Michael Martinez left the practice field following a cameo appearance.


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