The UCLA Bruins football team enters the 2019 season with a ton of national intrigue. Now in the second season under former Oregon and NFL head coach, Chip Kelly, the Bruins are looking to take massive strides forward to improve from a 3-9 debut season.
There are truly a lot of positives that the Bruins have to like entering 2019. The team is returning 18 starters from last season, the highest number in the PAC-12 and one of the highest numbers in the country. Even with that, this team is still relying on very young players across the board.
In this four part series of articles, I am breaking down the UCLA Bruins team so that a basic understanding of each position is made for you, dear reader. Let’s not waste any more time, shall we?
The UCLA Bruins Quarterback Room
Gone is former Michigan graduate-transfer Wilton Speight, who started 4 games last season. Speight was a big, immobile quarterback who was a bit of a head-scratcher in Kelly’s offense, which relies on the mobility of a quarterback to help extend plays. Kelly’s previous quarterbacks all prove that his offense runs smoother with added mobility, especially remembering the Oregon Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. Speight shouldn’t be missed in this offense.
The returning starter is sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who is an extraordinary talent oozing with potential across the board. DTR was former #1 high school quarterback Tate Martell‘s back-up before becoming a starter his senior year in high school and becoming a 4 star-prospect himself.
Thompson-Robinson seriously impressed me in the tape that I reviewed him in, showing clean footwork in the pocket, a good accurate arm, and the ability to read the field. If he can take steps forward in 2019, he can contend for All-Pac-12 Teams this season.
Behind the talented sophomore are sophomore quarterback Austin Burton and true freshman Chase Griffin. Griffin arrived for spring camp but missed it with an injury. Burton appears to be the clear-cut back-up.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
The UCLA Bruins receiving corps hopes to bolster their numbers from 2018, returning four of the teams’ top five leaders in receptions. Tight End Caleb Wilson has departed for NFL ranks, becoming the latest Mr. Irrelevant in the NFL Draft, but should be anything but irrelevant at the pro level. Wilson takes with him 60 catches from last season, 965 yards, a 16.1-yard average, and four touchdowns, all team highs last season.
Returning, however, is Theo Howard, slot threat Demetric Felton, and Chase Cota. Howard and Cota are both former 4-star prospects and saw limited game action as a true freshman. Howard enters his senior season at UCLA with a real chance to shine after catching 51 passes. He also tied Wilson for the team lead in receiving touchdowns. Howard was an honorable mention All PAC-12 last season and a talented X receiver.
Cota is the big-bodied red zone threat, entering his sophomore season. While Cota didn’t score last season, that’s about to change in 2019. At 6’3″ and 197 pounds, Cota plays with a physical edge over his opposition. He projects to do very well this season as the vertical threat replacing what Wilson brought to the table.
A potential sleeper in this group is JUCO WR Jaylen Erwin. Erwin was in for the spring and showed potential in a crowded receiving corps, but can make an impact his first season in Los Angeles.
Former Michigan recruit and 5-star tight end Devin Asiasi steps up to replace Wilson as the next man up. He only caught 6 passes last season but showed his explosiveness scoring a 24-yard corner route against Arizona where he had his man beat the entire play. He racked up 130 yards on his 6 catches and scored that touchdown.
Pass Blocking And Back Threats
Left tackle this season for the Bruins is a little bit of a question mark. True freshman OT Sean Rhyan is expected to start immediately at left tackle. The highest-rated player in the incoming freshman class, Rhyan already is gifted with prototypical size (6’5″ 309 lbs). Now, he needs the rest of everything to come together. Rhyan wasn’t in for the spring, so if he doesn’t win the job this summer, there’s redshirt freshman tackle Alec Anderson who can start there. In my opinion, it’s going to take a lot for Rhyan not to end up with the starting position.
Four offensive linemen return across the board, a line that gave up 32 sacks (a little over 2 1/2 per game) last season. It’s still a young line (one senior) and they still have a lot of improving to do, so the jury is out.
Running back Joshua Kelley enters his senior season at UCLA. A transfer from UC-Davis, Kelley was an instrumental part of the offense last season, helping lead UCLA to their first win over USC since 2014 with his 289 rushing yards. Kelley’s skill set allows him to act as a valuable receiver as well, as he was third on the team in receptions (27) last season. Kelley also is a solid pass blocker, making him a target in the eyes of NFL scouts.
What To Expect In 2019
This UCLA Bruins offense promises to be much improved in 2019, provided that they can stay healthy. Dorian Thompson-Robinson is the real deal at quarterback, they have an NFL Draft prospect in Joshua Kelley, a young team overall with just three senior returning starters, and a lot of talent that has yet to hit their ceiling all across the board. This is an exciting team that should show significant improvement in 2019.