UCLA training camp takeaways: Plenty of roster depth, speed and a quick learner

UCLA quarterback Dante Moore warms up during a practice session at Spaulding Field on the UCLA campus.
UCLA quarterback Dante Moore warms up during a practice session at Spaulding Field on the UCLA campus on Aug. 2. Quarterback depth isn’t a problem for the Bruins this season.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
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Chip Kelly no longer has to throw passes in practice because UCLA is short-handed at quarterback.

His team is no longer one injury away from disaster at any position.

His players no longer get playing time by default.

This is, by far, Kelly’s deepest team in Westwood. So deep that Kelly noted Saturday the Bruins would have faced a dreaded cutdown day if the NCAA didn’t institute a COVID-19 exception allowing them to bring 120 players to training camp.

“If we had to bring 110,” Kelly said, “we would have had to make cuts and we didn’t have to make cuts before, we were trying to get as many guys as we could to get in here, so our numbers and depth are a lot better.”


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Having so much depth is a win-win-win-win. It lessens injury concerns, heightens position battles, increases playing rotations and makes everyone better.

“The more people you have,” Kelly said, “the better opportunities you have, especially as the season goes along, because you’re gonna get worn down and there’s gonna be some attrition, but you’re not turning it over to somebody that’s never played the game before, you turn it over some kids that are experienced.”

Enhanced depth has been one of the big early storylines of 2023 for the Bruins. Here are five other takeaways as the team reaches the midpoint of training camp Sunday:


Fast times at Wasserman

UCLA wide receiver Josiah Norwood sprints for a touchdown during a game against Bowling Green last season.
(Michael Owens / Getty Images)

Training camp is always filled with bravado, players bragging about how much faster they’ve gotten.


The Bruins have the numbers to prove it. Across the board, UCLA is a faster team after an offseason running program designed to make it the best-conditioned in the Pac-12.

“We’re almost doubling, tripling our numbers from last year,” wide receiver Josiah Norwood said. “So it’s been really impactful.”

The surest sign the Bruins are in better shape? Several have reported feeling fresh after the end of practices spanning two hours on hot days.

With a little less than three weeks until the opener against Coastal Carolina on Sept. 2 at the Rose Bowl, these guys are passing the eye test.

“I think you can just look at our bodies and they look a little bit leaner and a little bit more athletic,” Kelly said. “I think we’re running better and I know from our data from miles per hour and high-speed distances, explosive efforts and all those other things, they’re up from when we’ve been here in the past.”


A quick learner

UCLA quarterback Dante Moore at practice.
UCLA quarterback Dante Moore throws during a team practice session earlier this month.
(Jesus Ramirez / UCLA Athletics)

Every day brings new lessons for Dante Moore. A week ago, the true freshman eyed the microphone standing between himself and a group of reporters waiting to interview him and inquired about what he was supposed to do.

“Do I have to step closer to that?” he asked. “Or am I good right here?”

Moore was told he was just fine where he was. The same could be said for his standing in the battle to become the Bruins’ starting quarterback. Moore has impressed both teammates and observers with his work ethic and willingness to ask questions whenever he’s unsure about something.

“Mentally, he’s actually really smart and he knows the playbook really well and he’s able to dissect defenses the way he wants to,” wide receiver Kyle Ford said. “Obviously, we already know the arm talent and everything, I don’t think that’s a surprise to anybody. He’s been good and he’s only gonna get better, which is the most exciting part.”

Moore also possesses an unmistakable swagger for someone who recently turned 18, dazzling teammates with no-look passes that resemble those of a certain NBA player.


“He’ll make a throw, and he’ll do that Steph Curry turn away before the guy catches it,” Ford said. “I love that stuff, man. Just the confidence, that’s what turns me up.”

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A giant in their midst

Oregon wide receiver Troy Franklin is tackled by California linebacker Oluwafemi Oladejo.
Oregon wide receiver Troy Franklin is tackled by California linebacker Oluwafemi Oladejo (10) during a game in October. Oladejo has proven to be a big addition for the UCLA defense.
(Godofredo A. Vásquez / Associated Press)

Among the linebackers, one newcomer stands out like an NFL ringer.
Combining a rippled 6-foot-3, 250-pound frame with a sprinter’s burst, Oluwafemi Oladejo tends to draw one’s attention wherever he goes.

“Everything about Femi, he’s impressive,” Kelly said. “He’s a dialed-in guy that loves playing football, one of those guys — the first in, last out, he studies a ton of tape, is all about everything you want to be about.”

The California transfer joins what should be the best linebacking corps Kelly has enjoyed since his arrival.


Oladejo, a junior whose 91 tackles last season with the Bears were the second most on the team, is part of a veteran group that also includes redshirt seniors Ale Kaho and Darius Muasau; seniors JonJon Vaughns and Kain Medrano; and redshirt junior Choe Bryant-Strother.

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Welcome reinforcements

Offensive lineman Khadere Kounta, a transfer from Old Dominion, has made an impact for UCLA in training camp.
(Andrew Shurtleff / Associated Press)

Unlike in spring practices, UCLA’s offensive line no longer seems precariously thin.

The arrival of transfers Khadere Kounta (Old Dominion) and Jake Wiley (Colorado) has bolstered a unit in heavy flux with the departures of Raiqwon O’Neal, Jon Gaines II and Atonio Mafi to the NFL.

Kounta seems entrenched at left tackle. Wiley could be the starting right guard while also splitting time at right tackle with likely starter Garrett DiGiorgio. Benjamin Roy and Purdue transfer Spencer Holstege appear locked in a battle to become the starting left guard alongside veteran center Duke Clemens.


“We’ve been rotating a lot, guys getting reps everywhere just trying to find the right fit, the right five guys to play,” Clemens said. “Everyone has been exceeding expectations so far, I think, and if they’re not, everyone’s working hard and that’s the thing we don’t have to question over here, so I’m happy about that.

Dante Moore, Ethan Garbers, Collin Schlee and Justyn Martin each had their say Saturday in how things stand in the UCLA starting quarterback battle.

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“I think we’re deep and if someone goes down, we’ll have someone else to step up and be ready to go.”

Can the offensive line continue a dominant run under Kelly in which it has helped the Bruins’ rushing offense finish in the top 14 nationally in each of the last three years? Last season, that line paved the way for a run game that averaged 237.2 yards per game, ranking No. 6 in the nation.

“I think we already have the chemistry,” DiGiorgio said, “so I think we’ll be pretty close to that spot as last year, if not even better.”


David Shaw sighting at UCLA

Former Stanford head coach David Shaw was spotted on the UCLA campus last week.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)


David Shaw was spotted on campus this week in a UCLA shirt. It’s true.

The former Stanford coach who once presided over eight consecutive victories over the Bruins is now happily wearing blue and gold. His son, Carter, is a freshman walk-on wide receiver at UCLA.

Kelly said the elder Shaw, who resigned last November after going 96-54 to become the winningest coach in Stanford history, would split his time between working for the NFL Network and watching sons Carter and Gavin play football.

No, for those wondering, he’s not going to be an analyst for the Bruins.

“David’s going to be there,” Kelly said, pointing to a group of UCLA family and boosters watching practice from the ledge of the Luskin Center. “I think if you asked David — and I’m not being sarcastic — he’s just really proud to be a UCLA dad and that’s his role is to just be the father of Carter and watch his kid play.

“So David’s role is as a UCLA dad and very, very close friend of mine, but he’s not doing anything football-wise for us or anything like that. … I’m happy to have a UCLA dad like that on our side.”