It has been a long off-season for UCLA football. From the truncated Spring camp, to the shutting off off-season workouts, to the resumption of very limited workouts, as UCLA starts to move forward. Now, with a season to be had in front of them, the Bruins have commenced with official pre-season camp. There are still state-mandated limits as to how many players can participate at one time, (75). But it is good enough to get more than three-deep at every position for the time being.
UCLA Starts To Move Forward
The Bruins have a few days less than a full month before their November 7th season opener at Colorado. There is a lot of work to get done in a very short period of time. The linebacking corps is going to be a rebuild with so many having left or graduated. There is much work to do on the offensive line. Center Boss Tagaloa graduated and Chris Murray transferred in the off-season. When the Pac 12 announced it was not going to play this season, Jake Burton transferred to Baylor in order to get playing time and save his season.
They are thin at tight end with the NFL departure of Devin Asiasi, and the transfers of Jordan Wilson and Matt Lynch. Of course, there is the most obvious piece missing in running back Joshua Kelley, now with the Los Angeles Chargers. Replacing a guy who ran for 1,000+ yards in each of the last two seasons is no easy task.
That is not to say there is not help on the way. The Bruins are adding running back Brittain Brown from Duke, tight end Evidence Njoku from Miami, and defensive backs Obi Eboh, (Stanford), and Qwuantrezz Knight, (Kent State). Knight, Brown, and Eboh are eligible immediately as grad transfers. Perhaps most importantly, is the addition of offensive lineman Paul Grattan from Villanova. At 6-4, 295, he can see immediate playing time because of the need on the line. Grattan was All Colonial Athletic Association last year.
It Has To Be DTR As A Leader
The one who is going to be expected to pull it all together on offense is junior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. He has had his great moments and his periods of inconsistency. But even during the COVID shutdown, it became clear who the vocal leader of the team was. Thompson-Robinson was very outspoken on his desire to find a way to have the season. He also used social media to chronicle his involvement with UCLA getting food to the needy, and school supplies to the local community.
Having developed into the most visible name and face of the program, he is clearly ready to get back to football. With practice officially starting Friday, Thompson-Robinson said he could feel the change in the mood. “We’ve been waiting for this for awhile now. With Fall camp here, it means the season is right around the corner, so I think guys were really fired up today.”
Like all players from schools who spent the Summer sitting and waiting, Thompson-Robinson had to find other ways to develop and grow his game. He said quarterback coach Dana Bible referred to the time as going to quarterback school. “As soon as they sent us home, I was probably off for a good month, just hanging out with my family and enjoying being back home. And after that I would fly to Dallas to work with a quarterback coach every other week.” He said he also did conditioning with boxing workouts with his brother. Thompson-Robinson said he would also go up to campus to workout with some of his receivers. “I was working the whole time. There were no days off for me except that month I took off.”
He said the last two seasons were not up to his standards. He has yet to finish a season with a 60% completion rate. His touchdown to interception ratio is not even 2:1. “That’s what I really found out about myself. You know, I really want this. I want to improve.”
To the point of being the leader of the offense, Thompson-Robinson said he expects big things from his receivers, particularly Kyle Philips as well as running backs Keegan Jones and Kazmeir Allen, and hybrid back Demetric Felton.
In terms of dealing with life in the COVID era, Thompson-Robinson said when UCLA head coach Chip Kelly, and his wife, both tested positive back in March, it brought the stark reality of the virus front and center. “When they first sent us home I think everyone took it not really as a joke, but not as serious. Then when Coach Kelly got it and stuff like that, it was like an eye opener, not only to him, but also to us too. It made everyone take it a lot more seriously.” He also noted how many games have been cancelled or postponed because of outbreaks. With there being no BYE weeks for anyone in the new Pac 12 schedule, there is no margin for error.
It’s Not Just Football
Thompson-Robinson was one of dozens of Pac 12 players in the early Spring who called for more transparency from the schools when it came to COVID testing and protocols. He said now, with the daily testing and player involvement in the process, he is very comfortable with how it is being handled. “Everybody here has done a phenomenal job in making sure they have our best interests. If anything were to arise, health wise, they are on it ASAP. We have a really good plan here and a really good structure here.”
Originally UCLA was only reporting positive COVID tests as a whole “community.” There were six players who tested positive in June, a number that was curiously reported as current by LA County Health Director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer in July. The school is now reporting results from the athletic department with a breakdown by sport. The football program has had no positive tests since the original cases in June through Friday’s most current report.
Aside from dealing with COVID, this has also been a Summer of civil unrest, protests, and demonstrations for social justice. The movements have not just been in urban neighborhoods but throughout Southern California, as well as cities throughout the country. Thompson-Robinson was very active on social media with his support of Black Lives Matter and related social justice causes.
— DTR (@DoriansTweets) June 25, 2020
He said that will not end just because football is starting. He specifically mentioned what Clemson did earlier this season. The Tigers had social justice phrases in place of their names on the back of their jerseys.
“Our leaders have already talked to Coach Kelly and he is doing his best part to try to get that implemented as to what we are going to try to do this season with our jerseys and our uniforms and all that stuff.”
This will be a football season unlike any other for Thompson-Robinson and UCLA.