Safeties at cornerback? UCLA positions itself to avoid COVID-19 postponements

Chip Kelly gestures on the sideline during a 2018 game for UCLA.
In an effort to mitigate the effect of players potentially testing positive for the coronavirus, UCLA coach Chip Kelly, pictured at a game in 2018, has players practicing at different positions.
(Mark J. Terill / Associated Press)

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson isn’t going to start playing cornerback, but some of his teammates have begun training at other positions to ensure the Bruins can withstand potential roster shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Safeties have to be able to play cornerback and vice versa. Outside and inside linebackers need to be interchangeable. Offensive linemen must be capable of manning all five positions.

The Bruins previously have trained cross-positionally under coach Chip Kelly but are enhancing their efforts this season given the challenges presented by a virus that has postponed scores of games across college football.


“We’re doing it a little bit more with the understanding we could lose certain players at certain positions,” Kelly said Monday on a videoconference with reporters. “Within our positions, we know as a coaching staff there has to be extreme flexibility.”

UCLA has plenty of new faces on offense this season, but the receiving corps offers an oasis of veteran talent for Chip Kelly and the Bruins.

Oct. 18, 2020

The Pac-12 Conference announced Monday it would require each team to have at least 53 scholarship players available to avoid postponing games, unless the impacted school decides it was willing to play short-handed. Additionally, teams must have at least seven offensive linemen, four interior defensive linemen and one quarterback — all on scholarship — available to play unless the team was willing to forge ahead while depleted.

That seems unlikely in some scenarios.

“If you don’t have a quarterback,” Kelly said, “you can’t play.”

The Bruins have taken measures to ensure they’re not short-handed in training camp beyond daily testing for the virus. Players are asked to report any symptoms before showing up at the Wasserman Football Center to avoid potentially infecting teammates and coaches. Those players then undergo tests to confirm they’re not carrying the virus and wait for their symptoms to resolve before being allowed to rejoin practice.

“We don’t want a kid coming here and say, ‘Hey, I don’t feel well,’ but then could potentially infect the locker room,” Kelly said.

Kelly and his wife, Jill, both contracted COVID-19 in March but have long since recovered. The coach said his staff has commenced discussions about a contingency plan should Kelly or any of his assistants test positive and be forced to miss a game, with control of the offense “most likely” being handled by offensive coordinator Justin Frye.

Fans aren’t being allowed to attend USC and UCLA football games because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but families of players want to be able to be inside the stadium.

Oct. 16, 2020

“Before we say, ‘Hey, this is what our plan is,’ ” Kelly said, “we have to finalize it and run it by our athletic director and make sure we’re on the same page.”

Crossover cross up?

Preliminary plans call for Pac-12 teams from each division to be matched up according to their conference finish in the final games of the season Dec. 18-19, Kelly said, with one possible exception.

Should teams outside of the conference championship game Dec. 18 have met previously during the season, Pac-12 officials would adjust the schedule to avoid a rematch.


“They’re not going to make them play again,” Kelly said, “so then they would have to shuffle it, if that makes sense.”