With 179 days left until kickoff, the Bruins are back out on the gridiron.
UCLA football had its first of 15 spring practices Tuesday morning at the Wasserman Football Center. Ninety-nine Bruins will join the team for spring camps this year, with seven early enrollees listed on the roster as well.
“We’re all just happy to be back,” said rising redshirt senior running back Demetric Felton.
With Joshua Kelley gone and preparing for the 2020 NFL Draft, Felton said his preparation for potentially becoming an every-down back has already begun.
Felton is the only running back in camp with more than 55 career rushing attempts to his name, with Duke transfer Brittain Brown not set to join UCLA until the summer. The returning Bruin running backs combined for 489 yards on 4.3 yards per carry last season.
“I’m ready to do whatever the team needs,” Felton said. “If it’s being the every-down back and taking handoffs, I’ll do that. We definitely got guys in the room who are very talented as well, so we’re all ready.”
Less than 24 hours before Felton and the rest of the running backs got back on the field, coach Chip Kelly added a new name to the fray.
UCLA hired Johnny Nansen as its new defensive line coach Monday afternoon, filling a position left vacant by now-Boston College defensive line coach Vincent Oghobaase. Nansen has been a part of six programs over the last 20 years, with his most recent job being USC’s inside linebackers coach and defensive run game coordinator.
Nansen had also previously been the running backs coach at USC, Washington and Montana State.
With Nansen now tasked with bringing all his focus to the defensive line in Westwood, rising redshirt senior defensive end Osa Odighizuwa said he has already noticed a change in culture.
“He brings juice to the D-line, just adds to the vibe,” Odighizuwa said. “He might have been an ‘SC guy, but he’s over here, ‘Fours Up,’ and we’re working.”
One player who won’t be rejoining Odighizuwa in Nansen’s new unit will be rising junior Atonio Mafi.
Mafi – who played defensive tackle in each of his first two seasons with UCLA – warmed up with the offensive linemen Tuesday. Odighizuwa said that while Mafi’s departure will certainly change the defensive line’s dynamic, he is looking forward to seeing what his teammate can do on the other side of the ball.
“That’s where the need was, so he’s just a team guy, he was willing to do it,” Odighizuwa said. “I’m excited for him, so I’m excited to see what he does on the offensive line.”
Mafi isn’t the only Bruin to make the transition from interior defensive lineman to interior offensive lineman in recent years, as Boss Tagaloa made the change to center midway through his junior season in Westwood in 2018. Tagaloa was named to the preseason watchlist for the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the nation’s best center, in July and was part of the unit that paved the way for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for Kelley.
But with both Kelley and Tagaloa now gone, the Bruins will take the next six weeks of practice to see if Felton and Mafi can fill the voids.