What does a season of accountability look like for UCLA football? For the fans who have suffered through a three-year spell of a 10-21 record, wins would do the trick. Many wins. People can talk about improvement over the last year or two. But until that is put into actual winning football, it is nothing but a personal perception. And personal perception doesn’t fill the ol’ stadium. From the team perspective, accountability is being painted more as the journey and not the destination. In UCLA’s accountability season, they are trusting that the journey will lead them down the desired road.
UCLA’s Accountability Season
Accountability, from the team perspective, is going hand-in-hand with what players and coaches are referring to as a “player-led team.” That’s not to say Chip Kelly and his staff are taking the season off. There are some on social media who may wish it to be. But in Kelly’s world, the pieces are in place with one of the most veteran teams in all of college football this season. Returning 20 of 22 starters, including your three-year starter at quarterback should leave fewer question marks as to people’s roles.
UCLA also has unprecedented depth. With the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility to anyone who wants it, because of the 2020 Covid season, the Bruins had 115 players in Spring camp. Compare that to the 65 Kelly had in his first season, and depth at any position should not be a challenge. Add in another 10 players who made their way to campus during the Summer. And the problem is not a lack of players at any position, so much as it is remembering who everyone is.
That gets us to the players, those dozens of seasoned veterans, including transfers from other schools. They have spent the off-season preaching to all who would listen that this is going to be a player led team, in terms of accountability with and to one another. At Pac-12 Media Day last week, sixth year senior defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight described his view of a player-led team. “We’ve got players that can actually be coaches as well. The players are holding each other accountable. We’re trying to take pressure off the coaches.”
Receiver Kyle Philips characterized it as attention to the finest of details on the field. “I’d describe our practice as more of a player-led practice,” the redshirt junior said this week. “It’s not the coaches who have to get on us about the small details. It’s the leaders on the team, the guys who have been here awhile, who are taking charge, you know and getting everything run the way it is supposed to be run.”
Leading By Example
The team has squad leaders by position. Those players communicate with each other outside of the practice facilities, Philips said. Picture camp counselors conferring every night via group chat/texts on what is working and not working in terms of their own leadership of the larger team. Philips said it shows up off the field as much as on the field. “Coach Kelly says how you do the small things is how you do all things,” he said. The discipline off the field in terms of players taking care of the locker room and the training facility is closely monitored by the squad leaders. Philips said that discipline off the field shows up on the field in practice.
Sophomore receiver Matt Sykes said his squad leaders were responsible for the off-season workouts for the group. He named Chase Cota and Philips as guys leading by example. “Every day at practice they show how you’re supposed to play, finishing each play, tucking the ball, and doing all the small things it takes to play receiver,” Sykes said.
Impact On The Coaches
Defensive backs coach Brian Norwood said the accountability from the players has helped increase the level of energy at camp. With no Spring camp last year, and a truncated season, there was not as much for the players to take charge of. But with a full Spring under their belts, along with player-led Summer workouts, Norwood said there is a lot more energy on the field as Fall camp hits its first full week. He credited it to the ability to have more time for everyone to do, “A lot more learning.”
Norwood said the veteran leadership started to show during the Summer workouts and has now spilled over into Fall camp. “Guys take ownership in the way they go about things is individual led,” he said. “So, the leaders in the group, guys like Qwuantrezz, Bo (Calvert), all the guys up front. Just a host of them. They are making everyone accountable.”
Norwood says he doesn’t always have to say something to a player when a veteran like Stephan Blaylock steps in to make the teaching moment. “So now on the football field they are holding other guys accountable for the little things. It’s just raising the bar.”
The Bottom Line Is The Bottom Line
Being a year older does not guarantee being a year better. And a new camp always provides for fresh optimism. Whether it is founded or not will only be determined by the results on the field. It is past time to have to search for quantifiable results. UCLA football must be at the point where wins and losses are everything. UCLA loses large chunks of its starting roster next season. So for this season, knowing who is accountable and for what is going to factor large in its potential success.