Football fields veteran defensive backs, quarterbacks compete for No. 2 spot
UCLA football redshirt senior defensive back Obi Eboh has split time with senior cornerback Mo Osling at the No. 1 cornerback spot so far in fall camp. Eboh played in five games last year after transferring from Stanford. (David Rimer/Assistant Photo editor)
By Jared Tay
Aug. 7, 2021 5:54 p.m.
This post was updated Aug. 8 at 8:13 p.m.
For much of fall camp, the narrative surrounding the Bruins has been about the veterans.
It’s a stark contrast to two seasons ago in 2019, when UCLA football’s campaign was marked by its underwhelming performance and the youth of its roster. At every turn, coach Chip Kelly seemed to remind Bruin nation that his roster had 87 freshmen and sophomores.
But two years later, those same freshmen and sophomores have become juniors and seniors, making for what Kelly has called the deepest and most experienced team he has seen in his time at UCLA.
“Every position is the deepest (it’s been),” Kelly said. “We have so many people that have experience here.”
Included are the Bruins’ defensive backs, who are looking to improve upon a 2020 season that saw UCLA’s pass defense ranked second-to-last in the Pac-12 and No. 114 in the nation.
Redshirt senior defensive back Obi Eboh and senior defensive back Mo Osling III spoke to the media following Saturday’s practice and said with more experience under their belts, they feel their best season is yet to come.
“The culture is very different from my freshman year to now. We feel like more of a family out here, it’s just a different vibe,” Osling said. “I haven’t felt like this in the past years – this is something special.”
Throughout fall camp, the athletes have emphasized the Bruins are a player-led squad, and with a plethora of juniors and seniors rounding out UCLA’s defensive backs, a few players have taken leadership roles in guiding their younger teammates.
“I feel like we have a lot of great leaders on our team,” Osling said. “We all kind of feed off each other. (Graduate defensive back Qwuantrezz) Knight, I would say he’s our big leader. He’s the motivation guy.”
— Jared Tay (@JaredTayDB) August 7, 2021
The added experience also seems to have given Osling and Eboh an eye for up-and-coming Bruins, especially the younger defensive backs in their fall camp platoon. Both said they have been impressed with defensive back Devin Kirkwood, a 6-foot-3 freshman from Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, California.
Osling and Eboh have also been splitting time at the No. 1 cornerback position, but neither viewed the shared time as a hamper to their development.
“The dynamic in the room, especially between (Osling and me), is competitive, not combative,” Eboh said. “It actually pushes us to compete harder and be more focused on our opportunities individually. We’re going harder for that and more focused on competing hard.”
That competition, Eboh said, has also followed the two off the field to another activity that, like the players, seems to have matured well over the past four years.
Kelly first introduced chess to the team in 2019 when he brought in chess instructor Seth Makowsky for the quarterbacks and subsequently made lessons available to the whole team. The interest in chess has spilled over into the defensive backs’ room, where Eboh said he is always trying to find time to squeeze in a game with Osling.
“Don’t let (Osling) come back on here and tell you that he’s beating up on everybody,” Eboh said. “But he is really good. I’ll just be humble and let him say that he’s got a little bit on me right now, but I say we’re definitely top 10 on the team.”
Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been designated as unavailable since Tuesday, but Kelly didn’t expand on his status any further.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Parker McQuarrie also wasn’t seen at practice, leaving redshirt sophomore quarterback Chase Griffin, redshirt freshman Ethan Garbers and freshman Kajiya Hollawayne as the only quarterbacks throwing on the far side of the field.
Garbers – a transfer from the University of Washington who enrolled at UCLA in January – has the opportunity to take over the No. 2 quarterback spot and was praised by Kelly before Saturday’s fall camp practice.
“He’s an extremely accurate thrower,” Kelly said. “Sometimes when guys have really strong arms … it doesn’t matter what the coverage is, they think they can get the ball in there. I just think he’s really smart and makes really good decisions in there.”
Garbers is likely competing with Griffin for the No. 2 role with the Bruins. Last year, Griffin stepped in for Thompson-Robinson when the then-junior had to quarantine because of coronavirus contact tracing. Against Oregon, Arizona and Stanford last season, Griffin threw for 451 yards and six touchdowns through the air.
Garbers didn’t see any game action last year with the Huskies but seems to have already impressed some of his teammates – even those on the defensive side – in fall camp.
“For a young guy, I would say he has a really, really good touch on the ball,” Eboh said. “He’s like a little playmaker.”