No matter how tedious Spring camp can be with all the repetition and extra work, UCLA’s Justin Frye swears this is fun. The UCLA assistant throws out a lot of similes and mixed metaphors in explaining what is going on in preparation for the 2021 season. Frye preaches fundamentals, even to his veteran offensive line. But at the end of the conversation on any topic regarding UCLA football Frye puts in the effort to convince you how much fun this is.
UCLA’s Justin Frye Says Training Camp Is Fun
Frye came to UCLA in 2018 as the offensive line coach, after five years in the same position as Boston College. After just one season he was promoted to offensive coordinator. It is a different role at UCLA. This is still and will always be head coach Chip Kelly’s offense to manage from soup to nuts.
While Kelly may be the guiding force of the offense, Frye is the guy working with him in the schemes and making sure everyone on the offense is in sync. And for him, it all starts up front with the offense line. It is a natural place for a guy who was an offensive tackle at Indiana from 2002-2006.
When asked what it’s like to have so much returning depth on the offensive line, Frye says, “It’s fun.” If the subject is the development of some of the younger linemen, Frye talks about accelerating their growth, and says, “It’s fun.” Ask him about slapping hands with players on both sides of the ball during stretching, and he says, “It’s fun.”
Polishing Tools And Lessons Learned
That’s not to say there is not serious work going on. “This is Spring football,” Frye said. “This is where you polish your tools and put them in the toolbox so that in the Fall, when you show up and you’re playing a certain front or a certain stunt, I’ve got a lot of bank in that. Let me pull out the screwdriver. I need the screwdriver, not the allen wrench.”
Whatever tools he may be reaching for, he has plenty of them. UCLA has the college football rarity of having all of its starting offensive line and all of last season’s reserves returning. To those not in Frye’s position, that might seem to make life a little easier on a coach. Frye, however, admits to having made mistakes with seasoned offensive line units. He says he mistakenly changed his coaching methods in the past when he had a veteran line. “In my past, as a younger guy, I’ve done that, and I failed miserably.” He said he was guilty of trying to accelerate the learning curve too much with a returning group and got away from fundamentals. “Because they start getting enamored with all the bells and the whistles and at the end of the day, it’s the gears and the basics that makes everything go.”
As much as the attention goes on senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, the stable of running backs, or the depth at receiver, Frye says none of it matters without the offensive line maintaining the fundamentals. “Chip’s never drawn a play on the board where you go, ‘Wow. This play stinks.’ They’re all good plays,” Frye said. “But they’re only good if the five guys up front allow the quarterback to get the ball delivered somewhere.”
Making Bank Deposits
He acknowledged that the line, and the offense as a whole, is further along in Spring because of their experience. “They’re further ahead because of the bank of what the guys know,” as Frye puts the toolbox aside and opens his financial institution when he talks about adding on to the fundamentals. “You know, you’re putting that money in the bank. And at some point, the dividends are going to come back because you’re invested in the right stuff. You’re putting in the right savings account. I think when you get more veteran guys, you don’t skip over the core stuff. You get really detailed with the core stuff.”
And you know where that gets you? “When you get a team like that and you can coach them that way, it’s fun. It’s really fun to work with these guys,” he said.
Making The Band
There is another upside to all of it the experience. Familiarity. Quarterbacks may have timing down with each receiver. But they also have to have confidence that the line in front of them is in unison. “You look up and you got five big asses in front of you, and you feel comfortable with them, then the quarterback is probably going to play pretty good,” he said. This is not a toolbox, nor is it a financial institution. This, in the Frye vernacular, is a musical group. “It’s like a band,” Frye said. It is less about timing. “It’s rhythmic. Where are we blocking? Who do we have? Who does he have? Let’s go to work. You can get into a good flow that way. It’s more rhythm there than timing.”
This takes him back to the importance of the fundamentals and the reps, which he acknowledges could actually be boring. “If we, (offensive linemen), were just lining up athletically, we’re the least athletes on the field,” Frye said. “So, a lot of reps, a lot of time, a lot of training, and just trusting the technique. Because your technique is always going to take you home. I don’t care what position you play.”
Fun For Both Sides
It feels like it is important to Frye that he makes sure he is clear. He is an equal opportunist when it comes to the fun. He cheers on the guys going up against his offensive line as well. “They go as we go. We go as they go,” Frye said. “You can’t coach a guy really hard if the only time you are coaching him is when he feels like it’s something [being] corrected. Now flip that to the other side. Otito (Ogbonnia), can’t look at me and be like, ‘Oh, that’s the o-line guy who is trying to defeat me.’” He said he makes sure and celebrates the, “fun,” with players on both side at camp and that he, Frye, is invested, as much as the players.
The fun goes on both sides of the ball.