In a Bruin market, Chip Kelly is diversifying his portfolio of plays

Ben Bolch
·4 min read
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson scrambles against USC.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson breaks from the pocket for extra yards during the second half against USC at the Coliseum on Nov. 23, 2019. (Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

A rushed training camp with heavy roster turnover might feel like an opportune time for UCLA’s offense to create what amounts to a pandemic playbook.

It would involve fewer plays practiced repeatedly until they’re mastered to the point of becoming as reflexive as leaping chest bumps after touchdowns.

The Bruins are doing the opposite.

“Coach, I think, has actually put in more plays,” junior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said Wednesday via videoconference.

Coach Chip Kelly apparently believes he has the personnel to get even more complex with his offense. There are some veterans in Thompson-Robinson, the most experienced returning quarterback in the Pac-12 Conference, and a receiving corps that includes all three starters back from 2019.

But the Bruins also are working in three new starters on the offensive line while experiencing massive turnover at tight end and running back. And it wasn’t as if UCLA was an offensive juggernaut in 2019, when the Bruins’ 26.7 points per game ranked No. 8 in the Pac-12 and tied for No. 79 nationally.

Rather than pare things down, Kelly has opted to diversify his portfolio of plays. Consider Thompson-Robinson among those who are excited about the possibilities.

“Just being more dynamic, being able to do a bunch of different things with the ball in a bunch of different ways and not just sticking to one option — you have multiple options on every play now,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I think you’ll see everybody having a lot more freedom, more keys to the castle, so I’m really excited about Nov. 7 coming around” when the Bruins open the season against Colorado.

With the coach and quarterback heading into their third season together, Thompson-Robinson described himself as “a mini coach Kelly on the field.” That means he knows not just what his coach wants but why and what he needs to do to make it happen. The quarterback said he’s getting into his reads a lot faster and playing at what he called “an elite pace.”

Could he get even faster?

“Always. Always. Always,” said Thompson-Robinson, adding that he’s also working to reduce turnovers after ranking among the national leaders last season with 12 passes intercepted and seven lost fumbles.

But what if the Bruins’ expanded playbook is too intricate for the freshmen or anyone who has trouble mastering the college football equivalent of "War and Peace"?

“We’re not waiting for anybody,” Thompson-Robinson said. “Those freshmen, they know they have to catch up, so all the older guys know we’re not waiting around for anybody so we’re going to go and go full speed, full tilt.”

Another Pac man

Obi Eboh joined a rare breed this summer when the cornerback became the latest intra-conference transfer to arrive at UCLA.

Since 2010, only center Kai Maiava (Colorado), wide receiver Josh Smith (Colorado), fullback Andy Magee (Arizona State), tight end Caleb Wilson (USC) and quarterback Colson Yankoff (Washington) have become Bruins after starting their careers at other Pac-12 schools.

A part-time starter in 2019 at Stanford, Eboh said he wanted to spend his final college season at UCLA as a graduate transfer because of his familiarity with the conference, an interest in the Bruins that goes back to high school and the university’s proximity to his buddies in Palo Alto. It also didn’t hurt that Eboh was accepted into UCLA’s prestigious school of law.

Eboh prepared to face his Stanford pals — on his birthday, no less — as part of the Bruins’ original schedule before it was twice revised. Now the teams won’t play unless they happen to draw each other in the conference championship on Dec. 18 or the slate of games that will be held the next day.

“Honestly, they’re glad that I’m close and I can come see them or they can come down here,” Eboh said of his friends. “They were all very supportive. They wanted me to stay but they didn’t give me any grief about it and it was a pretty seamless transition.”

Etc.

UCLA started its rapid-testing program Wednesday as part of its efforts to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 among its athletic community.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.