There aren’t going to be any more firsts for Chip Kelly and the Bruins.
“Year two is going to be so much different than year one just because of ‘been there, done that,’” Kelly said. “There won’t be our first road trip, there won’t be our first plane ride, there won’t be our first bus ride, there won’t be our first time in a hotel the night before the game, there won’t be our first game day routine – they’ve been through that.”
Coach Kelly, redshirt senior running back Joshua Kelley and senior linebacker Krys Barnes represented UCLA football at the 2019 Pac-12 Football Media Day in Hollywood on Wednesday, kicking off year two of the Chip Kelly era in Westwood. After boasting one of the youngest rosters in the nation a year ago, the Bruins will be returning a Power Five-highest 19 starters – most of whom are upperclassmen.
Kelly said those upperclassmen – including Kelley, redshirt senior linebacker Josh Woods, senior center Boss Tagaloa and senior wide receiver Theo Howard – have stepped up on and off the field and are primed to take over the locker room.
“This is their team,” Kelly said. “They can impact what the team looks like, and I think our coaching staff has done a really good job on educating those guys on what they need to do, how they need to model it.”
Barnes is one of four seniors expected to lead the linebacker corps this season, along with Woods, redshirt senior linebacker Tyree Thompson and redshirt senior linebacker Keisean Lucier-South. In the midst of a nearly four-minute rant praising the defense, Kelley said he was excited to see Barnes take charge on the that side of the ball.
“(Barnes is) the leader of that defense,” Kelley said. “(Barnes) isn’t scared of anything. He’s gonna go in there, he’s gonna compete, he’s gonna knock me on my tail during pass pro (drills), he’s awesome.”
Lucier-South will not be with the team for fall camp due to academic restrictions, but Kelly said he expects him to return for the start of Pac-12 play Sept. 21 against Washington State. Woods, however, will be ready for the season opener against Cincinnati on Aug. 29 after he missed the entirety of 2018 with a knee injury.
Another Bruin who had trouble staying healthy last season was then-freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who made just seven starts as a result of various injuries. Kelly said Wednesday that Thompson-Robinson was healthy by the end of last season – despite then-senior quarterback Wilton Speight starting the final three games – and that the injuries would not linger into 2019.
“(Thompson-Robinson) could have come back in at the end of the year and played, so it wasn’t a long-term injury,” Kelly said. “He was healthy, he had a really good command throughout the spring, so we’re excited to kind of see what year two looks like with him.”
The Bruins won’t exclusively be made up of familiar faces, however.
Kelly’s staff signed 25 recruits this offseason but later added 23 walk-ons as well. With the fresh blood joining the program, the second-year coach said he expects everyone on the roster to conform to his motto of reflecting the mission.
“If you want to be successful, then your habits have to reflect your mission,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot of people that say, ‘You know, New Year’s Day, I’m going to get in shape and I’m going to go work and do other things,’ and it lasts for three days, and then they’re buying chips and soda at the store three days later. Their habits don’t reflect their mission. You all figure out what your mission is and then your habits need to reflect that.”
Last year’s team opened the season on a 0-5 skid and finished with a 2-5 record at the Rose Bowl. Kelley said he and his teammates didn’t understand what “reflecting the mission” truly meant at the start of last season, but that he has it under his belt heading into his final year in blue and gold.
Barnes said being in Kelly’s system for a year has helped tremendously and that he is already holding the younger players accountable for getting adjusted as soon as possible.
“For us to be able to know (Kelly’s) standards for the team, (that) is where we’re at,” Barnes said. “Us leaders have established that for the freshmen who just came in six weeks ago, and they know what the standards are and they’re upholding them.”
Pushing to exceed expectations
UCLA was picked to finish tied for third in the Pac-12 South Division in Wednesday’s annual preseason media poll, while July 15 the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook set the Bruins’ over-under at 6.5 wins. Despite the middling results expected from the outside, Kelley said he and running back coach DeShaun Foster – who was on the last UCLA team to make a Rose Bowl in 1999 – routinely talk about the potential of making it back to the historic bowl game.
“You can’t go to a single running backs meeting without (Foster) talking about the Rose Bowl team,” Kelley said. “If you want to go to a Rose Bowl, it takes a lot of hard work, it takes a lot of confidence. That’s something that we’ve always wanted to do, play in the big game like that, and he gives us a lot of insight of what it feels like.”
Kelley was named an honorable mention for the media’s preseason All-Pac-12 team after rushing for 1,243 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018.
Howard and senior kicker JJ Molson also received votes for honorable mention, while junior defensive back Darnay Holmes was the lone Bruin to make the all-conference second team. UCLA did not have any representatives on the first team.