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UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson jumps back into form after training camp absence

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson readies to pass.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is back at practice.
(Associated Press)

The 2021 season is approaching, but the circumstances surrounding Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s mysterious 10-day absence from UCLA training camp sounded very 2020.

Speaking Monday for the first time since he missed eight practices, the UCLA quarterback declined to specify what kept him out, saying simply it was “really personal,” and he had to “deal with some stuff.” Following a policy put in place last year to not risk tipping their hand in the event of a COVID-19 health and safety incident, UCLA and coach Chip Kelly said only that Thompson-Robinson was “unavailable.”

After participating in the first three practices of training camp, Thompson-Robinson said he was still working out during the absence and attended meetings through Zoom. He enjoyed watching his teammates blow off training camp steam in a karaoke session. But after Monday’s practice — his third since returning — he said he’s glad to trade on-screen bonding activities for real-life celebrations.

“It was amazing being able to get to see the guys after so long,” Thompson-Robinson said. “Everybody was really excited to see me and I was really excited to see everybody.”

The training camp interruption was the latest hurdle in Thompson-Robinson’s UCLA career. He missed starts in his freshman and sophomore seasons because of injuries and had to sit out two games last year because of COVID-19 contact tracing. He has yet to make it through a whole season without missing a game.

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With so many returning veterans on the offense returning for UCLA, the Bruins are primed to break out as one of the elite offenses in the Pac-12.

Although Thompson-Robinson’s eight missed practices account for almost half of UCLA’s total training camp days, Kelly said he didn’t anticipate it would knock Thompson-Robinson off course for the season opener against Hawaii on Aug. 28 at the Rose Bowl.

The senior returned to the field last Friday and fell seamlessly back into this starting role. He stood at the front of the quarterback line during stretches and took snaps with the No. 1 offensive line. The tempo of practice knocked him back briefly on the first day, but he caught back up quickly. He had no other choice with how the Bruins continued to progress during his absence.

“It looked like they never missed a beat,” Thompson-Robinson said. “Young guys really coming along. Especially at receiver. Got a lot of guys stepping up so I was extremely proud of how they handled themselves while I was away.”

Without Thompson-Robinson, the focus shifted to a backup battle between redshirt sophomore Chase Griffin and transfer Ethan Garbers.

Griffin, who threw for 451 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions in four games last year, became a fan favorite for his calm, positive demeanor and steady play when he had to start in Thompson-Robinson’s place.

The process involves finding nonconference games that will be pleasing to players and fans alike. The Bruins already have games set for 2030.

Garbers is a local kid returning home. The former Corona del Mar star transferred from Washington to UCLA and impressed Kelly with the accuracy and velocity on his passes as well as 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.”

Griffin, Garbers, redshirt freshman Parker McQuarrie and freshman Kajiya Hollawayne will stake their claims to be UCLA’s quarterback of the future, but for now, the spotlight belongs solely to Thompson-Robinson. The senior has yet to deliver on the lofty expectations that followed him from high school, where he was dubbed a four-star quarterback prospect despite starting only one year under center at prep powerhouse Las Vegas Bishop Gorman.

Thompson-Robinson committed to UCLA under the previous coaching staff but stuck with his commitment when Kelly took over. The quarterback and offensive guru were supposed to lead the Bruins back to prominence.

In three years, they’ve gone 10-21 in the Kelly era and are 0-6 in nonconference games.

With COVID-19 certain to impact college football through 2021, the rule could come into play this season far more than before.

The mediocre record has done nothing to put the Bruins on the national map as they received just one vote in the preseason Associated Press poll. The voter slotted them at No. 24.

But in Westwood, expectations are much higher. Thompson-Robinson is ready to meet the bar.

“I don’t want to give away any secrets or anything, what we’ve got going on here, because we’ve got some special stuff coming,” Thompson-Robinson said. “Everyone will see what we’ve got on the 28th.”


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