As UCLA football’s spring practice is set to begin, Go Joe Bruin looks at six storylines to follow as the Bruins commence with Year 2 of the Chip Kelly era.
So what awaits us this spring for the next go-round with UCLA football? Though we know the direction head coach Chip Kelly wants to go, there are still a few things he needs to get a handle on to make this Bruin War Machine really pick up speed.
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With UCLA starting spring practice on Tuesday, we look at six storylines that will keep our attention over the next two months…
The QB Situation
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One thing that UCLA football fans have been concerned about since the end of the 2018 season is what the quarterback situation would be like in 2019. Last year, the Bruins split reps between then-grad transfer Wilton Speight and freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Both had decent seasons as they filled in for each other due to injury. It was a nice balance that kept the offense going (and improving) toward the end of last season.
But now that Speight is gone, the show is all DTR’s, but will he make that necessary jump from freshman to sophomore stud? The success of the offense depends on how much he improves this offseason, but there will be something else to look for… who is going to be the Bruins’ backup? As we saw last season, it is imperative that a second is brought up to speed just in case anything happens.
A More Aggressive Defense
One year ago, all we heard about from the defense was how aggressive they were going to be and how DL coach Vince Oghobaase wanted “more violence” from his defensive front. We got that, especially in spring practice, but once the season came around, injuries would assuage that ferocious mentality.
There were several injuries on the defense which forced younger guys into the lineup sooner than expected. Though it limited UCLA last season, that experience has prepped younger guys for what is to come this year. Additionally, if the Bruins get the majority of their injured players back, that will give the defense much-needed depth. Having a full squad will help the team to develop a much-needed pass rush, which will, in turn, help the pass and run defense. So what will we see in spring?
Will a Second Running Back Emerge?
We are all waiting for Joshua Kelley 2.0, but he cannot do it alone and with the mind of Chip Kelly ever-churning, we can expect a few plays designed around the other RBs. Aside from Kelley, the Bruins will have Martell Irby, Kazmeir Allen, and Keegan Jones in the mix for spring. Irby was the #2 back last season and was used to go up the middle in short yardage situations, which is what he might stick with this spring. In the fall we should see more of a power running game, especially with Jahmon McClendon and Sitiveni Kaufusi coming to Westwood.
Speed will be the thing to watch with the other two backs. Allen came in with a lot of fanfare but did not get the reps many hoped. As one of the fastest players on the team, Bruins fans thought he would help bring speed to the team, which he has, but now has to take that next step and put himself in the best position to succeed. The same goes for Jones who is fast, fast, fast. With these Bruins in the mix, watch for more uptempo plays that get the ball downfield at a faster rate.
The Injury Bug
It was no secret that the Bruins lacked depth due to injuries (and a thinning roster) but can they keep the injury bug at bay? Several players have had months to recover and we should see most of them return. The thing to keep an eye on this spring is if they can stay healthy, what kind of workout plan they will be on, and how much they actually participate. Will the lot of them be ready to go on Tuesday or will they be nurtured along until fall?
A Few Good Pass Rushers?
With Jaelan Phillips retiring then unretiring and then heading to Miami, the Bruins are now without their top pass rusher for the last two seasons. So who will emerge on the opposite side of Keiseasn Lucier-South to pressure opposing offenses? That is something that we are just going to have to wait and see. The Bruins have Odua Isibor, Elijah Wade and Mique Juarez waiting to take over that role, but will they be enough? This question, unfortunately, probably won’t be answered until fall, especially with a few freshmen join the fray.
Don’t look at the 3-9 record, look at the improvements that were made throughout the season. UCLA was atrocious in the first third of the season but was so much better in the last third. With Chip Kelly ripping things apart and putting them back together, he needed time for his project to manifest. By the end of the 2018 season, the Bruins were becoming very efficient on offense, defense and special teams (sort of).
With that being said, the Bruins should bring forth a more consistent style of play, especially since the team now knows what is required of them. 2018 started out rocky, but spring practice 2019 should show a more sound and well-executed style of football.