Dorian Thompson-Robinson remains unavailable, new players join defensive line
Senior defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia was part of a UCLA football defense that ranked No. 100 in rushing yards allowed per game with 199.4. In seven contests in 2020, Ogbonnia and the defense ranked No. 30 in the same category. (David Rimer/Assistant Photo editor)
By Jared Tay
Aug. 4, 2021 5:08 p.m.
This post was updated Aug. 8 at 8:14 p.m.
For the second straight day, Dorian Thompson-Robinson was listed as unavailable.
The senior starting quarterback for UCLA football was not seen at practice Tuesday and was later confirmed by UCLA Athletics to be unavailable. Thompson-Robinson missed his second consecutive day of camp Wednesday, but coach Chip Kelly declined to elaborate more on the signal caller’s status.
A type of catch-all term used by Kelly to refer to any player who is absent from practice, the unavailable designation doesn’t distinguish among players who are injured, are missing time because of coronavirus-related quarantines or are academically ineligible. Nonetheless, Kelly said Thompson-Robinson’s absence shouldn’t affect the senior’s preparation for the upcoming season.
“That kid works his tail off,” Kelly said. “He’ll be ready at the drop of a hat.”
On the far end of the field, redshirt sophomore quarterbacks Chase Griffin and Chase Artopoeus, along with redshirt freshman quarterback Ethan Garbers and freshman quarterback Kajiya Hollawayne split the repetitions at the position relatively evenly in place of Thompson-Robinson.
“The more they can get on the field and get experience, the better off they’re going to be,” Kelly said. “Exactly who is the surrounding cast around them isn’t the most important thing.”
Despite the key absences, Kelly said he believes his squad is the deepest it has been in all his time at UCLA. Adding to their depth, the Bruins welcomed freshman defensive end Devin Aupiu earlier this week. Though not in full pads Wednesday, the Notre Dame transfer has been on the field since Tuesday.
Aupiu’s eligibility remains up in the air, and Kelly said he hasn’t spoken to Erin Adkins, the UCLA associate director of compliance, about whether Aupiu could be available for the upcoming season.
The defensive end had originally committed to UCLA, but he decided to enroll at Notre Dame in February. Following the spring semester, however, Aupiu entered his name into the transfer portal in late June. On Monday, Aupiu announced he would be returning to Westwood.
“We’re excited to have him back,” Kelly said. “(I’ve) always loved how hard he plays and (I) love his upside. I think he’s going to be a tremendous college football player.”
Another transfer who joined the Bruins this summer was freshman defensive lineman Jay Toia, who had initially enrolled early at USC before transferring to UCLA in June. Toia’s eligibility for the 2021 season also remains in question.
A Veteran Defensive Line
Both Aupiu and Toia are set to join two veteran defensive linemen seniors, Otito Ogbonnia and Odua Isibor.
The two seniors spoke to the media after Wednesday’s practice and said they were happy to welcome both Aupiu and Toia’s energy to their group.
“(Toia) is a great guy,” Isibor said. “He’s hilarious. I am always joking around with him. And he’s really smart, really strong, really fast and has great moves on the inside. He’s a pleasure to play with on the field so I like talking to him on the field, and it’s a great time having him here.”
Isibor and Ogbonnia also spoke highly of the Bruins’ new strength and conditioning coach Keith Belton. Ogbonnia said Belton – who has previously held coaching positions at Kansas, USC, UNLV, Washington, Baylor and Wake Forest – has brought tremendous energy and a new level of focus to the team.
“I feel much faster (now),” Ogbonnia said. “It’s kind of one of those things where you start out, you hate running (but) you start to enjoy it towards the end and you enjoy that kind of grind and that struggle and that strain.”
Though the seniors said they feel a new sense of energy within the Bruins’ defense line, they acknowledged there is a considerable urgency to show fans they can produce in-game results as well.
Before last year’s abbreviated season, UCLA’s rush defense was ranked No. 100 in 2019, allowing 31 rushing touchdowns to opposing offenses.
“We put in the work, day in and day out,” Isibor said. “We come in for extra work on our off days – we do everything we’re supposed to and more. I feel like we’ve done the work necessary to be the best. Now, it just comes (down to) to proving that on the field.”