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Dorian Thompson-Robinson connects with new receivers during UCLA’s spring showcase

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson throws during the Bruins' spring showcase at Drake Stadium on April 23, 2022.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson displayed poise and accuracy during the Bruins’ spring showcase Saturday at Drake Stadium.
(Kyusung Gong / For The Times)
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Minus the food, marketing booths and roughly 1,500 fans who showed up at Drake Stadium on a cool Saturday morning, it really was just another UCLA football practice.

Coach Chip Kelly put his team through its usual array of individual drills, seven-on-seven periods and team competitions during the Bruins’ annual spring showcase, even completing eight minutes of special teams work in the middle of it all.

None of this was unexpected, Kelly having previously explained that he was going to stage a practice after the Pac-12 Network told the school it wanted to televise whatever the team was doing this weekend. With three spring practices remaining next week, Kelly opted for another practice over a game.

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Some introductions were made, the team’s transfers and new assistant coaches displayed on a video board with pictures and background facts. Fans also got a live look at what all those newcomers could do on a wet, slippery field.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly watches his players during the team's spring showcase April 23, 2022.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly watches his players Saturday at Drake Stadium.
(Kyusung Gong / For The Times)

Here are five takeaways from the showcase:

Dorian Thompson-Robinson appears poised to become a legendary Bruin

After engineering a historic beatdown of rival USC and moving onto the school’s career top-five lists for passing yards, total offense, completions and touchdown passes, Thompson-Robinson could do something no other Bruins quarterback has accomplished since Cade McNown at the end of the 1998 season: lead his team to the Rose Bowl game.

On Saturday, Thompson-Robinson displayed the poise and accuracy he’ll need for that kind of history-making season, throwing crisp passes to a variety of receivers while also making his usual slippery runs. He noted that the day marked the fifth anniversary of his verbal commitment to UCLA.

“It’s been fun,” said Thompson-Robinson, who will play a fifth college season thanks to additional eligibility granted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “And, you know, I’ve enjoyed every second of it … just showing up every day being grateful and being happy to be out here and just enjoying the process, you know, it’s my last go-around.”

UCLA has created a portal where businesses can connect with athletes interested in signing name, image and likeness agreements.

April 21, 2022

Quality receiving targets remain despite a mass exodus

UCLA wide receiver Jake Bobo takes a break during the Bruins' spring showcase April 23, 2022.
Wide receiver Jake Bobo, a transfer from Duke, takes a break during UCLA’s spring showcase.
(Kyusung Gong / For The Times)
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There was well-founded worry after tight end Greg Dulcich and receivers Kyle Philips and Chase Cota departed, depriving the team of 57.5% of its catches from last season.

Worry no more.

Duke transfer Jake Bobo and Central Florida transfer Titus Mokiao-Atimalala appear on track to start and catch so many passes that they should seek name, image and likeness deals with Target. Thompson-Robinson has also developed a strong rapport with tight ends Michael Ezeike and Hudson Habermehl while remembering that swing passes to running back Zach Charbonnet are often a good idea.

A handful of young receivers such as redshirt freshman D.J. Justice — whose father, David, a former Major League Baseball slugger who attended the showcase in a red-and-white Atlanta Braves cap — also appear on the verge of expanded roles.

“The receiver room is looking really good,” Thompson-Robinson said. “Obviously, they have a lot to learn with some new faces in there, but I think with the experience with Bobo and Titus and the other guys that have played before, I think we’ll be all right.”

The returns of Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet provide some clarity, but UCLA has plenty of questions heading into spring practice.

March 28, 2022

The offensive line needs some improvement

If there’s one thing that could derail what has become a top Pac-12 offense under Kelly, it’s regression along an offensive line that must replace tackles Sean Rhyan and Alec Anderson.

“Obviously, it’s been a little rough at times with new faces, so that’s expected,” Thompson-Robinson said. “But again, I know what to expect. I know this is a fresh starting five, so I know there’s gonna be some bumps in the road along the way.”

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Tackles Garrett DiGiorgio and Tyler Manoa have been inconsistent this spring as part of an offensive line that has struggled amid injuries and absences. While Sam Marrazzo and Siale Taupaki have been injured, Patrick Selna and Thomas Cole have been missing for unspecified reasons.

The Bruins should get a big lift this summer upon the arrival of Rutgers transfer Raiqwon O’Neal, a possible starter at left tackle, and could continue to mine the transfer portal for additional offensive linemen.

This defense could be surprisingly disruptive

Edge rusher Gabriel Murphy burst into the backfield late in the practice for a simulated sack, showing how opposing offenses must gird themselves for double trouble.

His identical twin, Grayson, has been equally troublesome this spring as part of a defense that appears rejuvenated under new defensive coordinator Bill McGovern.

“I think we’ll be better on the edge than we’ve ever been since I’ve been here,” Kelly said.

Kelly repeated a version of that praise when it came to middle linebacker Darius Muasau, the hard-hitting Hawaii transfer who seemed capable of predicting the future.

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“He’s calling plays out before we snap it based on formations,” Kelly said. “He’s just that smart and intuitive-type kid, he’s as good an inside kid as I’ve seen since we’ve been here.”

Under new coach Lincoln Riley, USC should attract a large crowd and TV audience to its spring game. UCLA to treat its game as a glorified workout.

April 20, 2022

Charbonnet needs a quality running mate

UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet carries the ball during the spring showcase April 23, 2022.
Bruins running back Zach Charbonnet carries the ball during the spring showcase.
(Kyusung Gong / For The Times)

There’s no disputing that the Bruins could have the Pac-12’s best running back — and a Heisman Trophy candidate — in Charbonnet, but who will be his sidekick?

With the hard-charging Brittain Brown having exhausted his eligibility, redshirt freshman Deshun Murrell and redshirt junior Keegan Jones have alternated repetitions as Charbonnet’s primary backup.

Neither has emerged as a runaway favorite. While Murrell has displayed a nice blend of power and speed, Jones might be slightly more elusive. But Jones needs to show more consistency as a receiver. He dropped three passes Saturday in addition to making the catch of the day when he hauled in a long pass from Chase Artopoeus.

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