Football sees growth, optimism from players as season preparation continues
Senior wide receiver Jaylen Erwin finished the 2019 season with 32 catches and 339 receiving yards. He will look to improve those numbers, even in a shortened campaign. (Axel Lopez/Daily Bruin senior staff)
By Jack Perez
Oct. 16, 2020 9:24 p.m.
It may be a cliche, but the Bruins have high hopes this year.
Just a season after finishing 4-8, members of UCLA football are optimistic heading into coach Chip Kelly’s third season at the helm.
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Kyle Philips led the Bruins with 681 receiving yards on 60 catches in 2019. With redshirt senior Demetric Felton’s moving to running back, Philips projects to be the top wideout once again, playing in the slot position.
Philips was quick to praise the freshmen receivers, notably Matt Sykes and Logan Loya, saying the two are quickly learning the playbook with little time to prepare.
“They are looking very good,” Philips said. “On the mental side of it, they’re picking the offense (up) so fast. (Wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty) isn’t giving them a crutch, isn’t doing anything. He’s just throwing them in, he’s like, ‘You guys got to pick it up,’ and they’ve done a phenomenal job of that, of just learning the offense so fast. It’s honestly pretty impressive with how fast they are able to do it.”
To have a successful season, the quarterback group will have to perform better than the 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions it accrued in 2019. Most of that lies on junior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who is expected to be the starter in the opener for the second straight season.
However, Thompson-Robinson struggled with injuries in the past, so the Bruins may have to lean on a backup if injuries befall the team once again. Senior wide receiver Jaylen Erwin said the whole crop of quarterbacks has shined for UCLA in the first few days of training camp.
“All the quarterbacks are looking great – all of them,” Erwin said. “All of them are making plays. All of them look like they have taken a whole different step from last year. It’s just amazing that not only just the quarterback room but the whole team, everybody is at a different space than they were at before we left for quarantine and everything else.”
If UCLA can get things clicking before it heads to Boulder for the season opener against Colorado on Nov. 7, the team could repeat its victory over their conference rivals. The Bruins came out on top 31-14 over the Buffaloes last season and are currently favorites by over six points heading into the matchup this year.
Philips said the team understands everyone on the offense needs to play up to their abilities if UCLA wants to make a successful training camp carry over into games.
“That’s key for the offense as a whole,” Philips said. “We just need every man doing their job. It can’t be a one- (or) two-man team, everyone has to do their role, everyone has to play hard, so that way, if everyone’s doing it, they can’t stop us because there’s just too much.”
In order for the Bruins to reach the season, however, the team must continue to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak. UCLA Athletics reported zero new positive results from 1,293 tests in the past week.
While Kelly said he knows an outbreak could quickly form as they have at Florida and Vanderbilt recently, he pointed to the leadership of Athletics Director Martin Jarmond and Senior Associate Athletics Director Matt Elliott as a big reason why UCLA has avoided the same fate.
“I think (Jarmond) and (Elliott) and that whole group have done a great job of keeping us informed and fighting for what we feel we should be able to do based upon what the climate is here in Westwood, but I think that whole group has been outstanding,” Kelly said. “Since the whole pandemic started, I think our school’s been really, really good.”
Under Armour updates
UCLA continues its fraught relationship with Under Armour, as the university sues the apparel company following the decision by UA to split off early from the two sides’ 15-year, $280-million deal.
The company is still providing equipment and uniforms for this year, and Kelly said the team will continue to wear UA products and has not had any problems getting apparel thus far.
“I don’t see anybody that’s not wearing anything new,” Kelly said. “I haven’t been down in the equipment room, but I think we’re OK to get through the season. I haven’t seen any of the game uniforms or any of that stuff, so I couldn’t tell you that part of it, but that’s what I was told.”