The early prelims of the Chip Kelly era are over, and now it is time to get down to work. Spring Camp, part two, starts this week. After a two-week break, we will see if Kelly’s innovative schedule produces the intended results.
UCLA Football; Spring Forward
The first two weeks started earlier than usual and were about getting used to the pace, the rhythm of a Kelly offense. It was about the returning players learning what the expectations are going to be on the practice field, so as to guide the youngsters as they come in this Summer. Kelly then did something no other UCLA football coach had previously done. He acknowledged the players had to get through exams and Spring Break. By starting camp early, it allowed him to give them the last two weeks off for that. They no doubt had assignments and homework during the break but had time for school and family.
Now, they come back starting this week to get down to the business of learning Kelly’s schemes over the next three weeks. Some of the practices will be open, some will be closed. The session will culminate with a Spring Scrimmage scheduled for April 21st. Some story lines to keep an eye on:
Picking Up The Pace
The first thing that was most evident from the first two weeks was the pace of the practices. There is no jogging from drill to drill. There is running. During live action drills, there is no trotting back to your position or to the line of scrimmage. There is sprinting, with the coaches yelling, “Faster! Faster!” There is a bigger point than just barking orders and commanding practice. The pace can garner an additional 13-14 snaps per practice. Translate that to a game, and you are talking about a significant difference for the offensive control of the game clock.
Beyond that, Kelly says, it is about players being 4th quarter ready in terms of conditioning. There is a little “mis-remembering” out there when it comes to the Chip Kelly offense at Oregon. It was not a “fling-it-all-over-the-place” kind of chuck-and-go offense. This is not Mike Leach at Washington State with quarterbacks throwing 65 passes per game. Kelly’s success was about the offense administering its pace and forcing the defenses to play with few substitution opportunities. Future Heisman winner Marcus Mariotta played one season under Kelly at Oregon and even he averaged only 25 passes per season. The offense is about pace and control.
Center Of Attention
Boss Tagaloa to center is no longer an experiment. After taking all of the snaps with the “ones” the first two weeks, it is clear that is where the plan is headed. There is a lot of work to be done. There were a lot of snap issues in the shotgun formation in the live action drills during the first two weeks. The offensive line is still razor thin in terms of depth, so moving someone over from the defensive side is the most viable option.
Taking Charge Of The Offense
Neither Devon Modster nor Matt Lynch were lighting the field up in the first two weeks. Modster was slightly, and we emphasize slightly, better than Lynch in the rollout throws to the intermediate zones and further downfield. But he was also short hopping the short throws. It was anticipated that Washington graduate transfer K.J. Carta-Samuels would be joining the group at this session. He, however, has changed course and will be going to Colorado State instead.
Brandon Dawkins, a graduate transfer from Arizona is reportedly considering UCLA. Dawkins is more of a dual threat quarterback than Carta-Samuels, but the timing of that is uncertain. He has not made a final decision, and that most certainly is dependent upon even being admitted. UCLA graduate school does not give preferential nods to athletes. Even if he is granted admission, the timing could be such that he is not on the field until the Summer workouts. Of course, the much-anticipated arrival of freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson will not be until Summer.
Help Is On The Way
Two junior college transfers are expected to be at camp starting this week. Tyree Thompson is a 6-3, 235 linebacker from LA Valley College. He played his high school ball at Bishop Alemany and then went to Sacramento State. He redshirted his first year there and then played nine games as a redshirt freshman. Last year at LAVC he had 51 tackles. He was thought to be going to Vanderbilt but had a very late change of mind and signed with UCLA in February. He has two years of eligibility left.
Je’Vari Anderson is transferring from Laney College in Oakland. He played his high school ball at De La Salle where he was a three-star recruit and was teammates with current Bruins Boss Tagaloa and Devin Asiasi. He played two seasons at Laney, accumulating 32 tackles and three interceptions. At 5-11, 229 he played defensive back at Laney but he is going to get a shot at linebacker for Kelly this Spring. He is small for the position but the Bruins need depth at linebacker, especially with the likelihood of moving to a 3-4 flex defense. He has three years left to play two.
It has been reported by Capital Gazette that Kelly is adding Navy assistant coach Bryce McDonald to the administrative staff. McDonald served as director of football operations at Navy, prior to becoming the offensive tackles coach two years. He is a 2003 graduate of the Naval Academy and served nine years in the Marines, earning the rank of Lieutenant. UCLA has yet to make the official announcement, but Last Word has confirmed it with other sources. Because UCLA is at the 10-assistant maximum, McDonald will be an administrative assistant. He will be doing a lot of practice film and game film breakdown work and advance game scouting.
The most evident thing since Kelly was hired as head coach back in December is that he has tried to make a culture change in UCLA football. The tone and tenor of spring ball is decidedly different from previous years. There was a discernible difference on the recruiting path with more emphasis on system fit. At practice you see assistant coaches engaging the players on the sidelines coaching them before they go in to do the drills. There are still a lot of steps in climbing the ladder. It is only the second part of Spring camp. But the next three weeks are where we are going to start to see some of the results of part one come to fruition.