The talk about returning experience for UCLA has been repeated ad nauseum…frequently in this space. Depth has also been a big topic during Spring. Developing younger players and integrating the transfers was high on the priority list. And certainly, being able to move the process along faster was significant, due to the experience of the roster. Did the Bruins hit on some of those? All of those? None of those? UCLA head coach Chip Kelly assesses Spring camp for us.
Chip Kelly Assesses Spring Camp
Kelly said he needs time to go back and re-review some film from the camp that ended Thursday. But he knows based on what he saw to this point, he was pleased with both sides of the ball. “I thought both sides had great energy, great attitude for the 15th training session,” Kelly said. “And we have really had it for all 15 throughout. Our big deal is the consistency part. They have been really consistent throughout.” He said for what he referred to as the “standout” moments, it would require going through the film again with the coaching staff.
The Calendar Is Key
All of those developmental aspects of camp ring true for every team. But perhaps the biggest priority in Westwood this Spring was health. Yes, that is also a big deal for all programs, but the Bruins are in a unique place. They usually have a few weeks of camp before the school goes on Spring Break. They return to wrap up camp after that. However, with COVID protocols, players would have been subject to a week of quarantine before being allowed back to practice. On top of that, the NCAA was going to count that isolation time against UCLA’s calendar for time allowed to get Spring camp in.
That created a new and different set of circumstances. UCLA begins the season at home against Hawaii in Week 0. That means Fall camp will start a week or two earlier than in normal years. Combine that with pushing back the start of camp by several weeks, and the recovery time for any significant injury would have been very compressed.
Quentin Lake, Kyle Philips, Chase Cota, Jon Gaines, Kazmeir Allen, and a few others missed some days with various knicks and knocks. Kelly said the staff made a concerted effort not to push players through the minor injuries. It was a matter of knowing the calendar worked against them if it became a major injury. “I think we were just a little more cautious,” he said. “Ninety percent of those guys that did not participate today, (Thursday), if this was a game week, they would be full go.”
You Get A Snap, And You Get A Snap
Kelly also said since they were all multi-year veterans, he did not worry about them missing some snaps in Spring in order to keep them healthy big picture. “From a health standpoint, we will be as healthy as we have ever been going into pre-season camp.” Sam Marrazzo missed all of camp, but Kelly said he anticipates the starting center will be ready go for Fall camp.
The absence of some starters created more snaps for others. “You learn by doing,” Kelly said. He indicated the biggest benefactors were the early enrollees who walk into camp with no base knowledge of the work but got a lot more experience this Spring. “Those reps and that playing time for those guys was invaluable,” he said.
The other thing that helped was pure numbers. With 2020 being a free year of eligibility, the NCAA took the 85 scholarship limit off for one year, to accommodate for Super seniors and players who might have otherwise left early. Kelly estimates the Bruins had 112 players in camp. By comparison, in his first Spring camp, they had 60 active players. There are still more signees to come with some not being early enrollees. The numbers meant UCLA was doing live action drills on both practice fields simultaneously. That also lead to the increased reps for everyone. “At some positions we are deeper than three deep,” Kelly said. “If we go to two fields, we are getting 44 guys reps instead of 22 at one time. This is the most reps we have ever gotten in the Spring, and they are all teachable moments.”
Relying On His Past
Kelly said with the revamped calendar, he relied on his system that goes with coaching in the NFL. Within weeks of the draft, the pros go into organized team activities, or OTA’s. From there, they have rookie camp/mini camp, and then ultimately full team workouts. “One of things in the NFL is that you took that short break, and then three or four weeks later you are in pre-season camp. So a lot of that stuff you installed in those mini camps and OTA’s, there was a lot of retention from that standpoint. So that was what we are hopeful for here.”
The players will now go through final exams in the coming weeks. Then it will be June workouts. After a couple more weeks of in early July, they will head to pre-season camp. “One of the things about coaching at UCLA is you’ve got smart kids,” Kelly said. The staff will be putting together videos for each player from Spring camp, with coaching voiceovers for continued study during the few weeks off, for that ongoing retention effort.
That will be the last box to check in order to measure how successful Spring camp was.
Main image courtesy Full Image 360 photography.