UCLA Bruins Football Offseason Preview
When UCLA hired Chip Kelly several seasons ago, hopes were high that the Bruins could become an elite force in the Pac-12 once again. It simply has not happened. Kelly was on top of the college football world when he coached in the Pac-12 a decade ago at Oregon. He was a step ahead of the competition in the conference, with the exception of Stanford, the one team which was often able to figure out Kelly’s high-octane offense.
At UCLA, it simply hasn’t been the same. UCLA has had its share of bright moments, including a 62-point offensive display last season in a blowout of rival USC. Yet, that kind of game has been an occasional event for the Bruins, not a regular one. All too often, Kelly’s UCLA teams have been flat on defense and sloppy on offense, leading to a series of head-scratching losses which have derailed the Bruins’ pursuit of a Pac-12 title and a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game. UCLA has not been in the Pac-12 title game since 2012, a source of enormous frustration for a school which hasn’t won a conference championship since 1998. Kelly avoided being fired last season, probably because his team blew out UCLA, but if he doesn’t perform well this season, the ax could fall and a prominent coaching career could come to an abrupt halt. Kelly’s job is very much on the line this season. He had to make a change at defensive coordinator, and he knows that with Dorian Thompson-Robinson is coming back for one more season as UCLA’s quarterback, there are no excuses. UCLA has to be able to make something of this season. If it can’t, the Bruins’ future will become that much more cloudy and uncertain.
Key Personnel Lost
Tight end Greg Dulcich, offensive lineman Sean Rhyan, defensive tackle Otito Ogbonnia, receiver Kyle Phillips, defensive back Quentin Lake, and running back Brittain Brown all left for the NFL draft.
Defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro was fired and replaced by Bill McGovern. It will be fascinating to see how Chip Kelly adjusts to all these changes. He has to look at everything he is seeing and make the pieces fit more comfortably than they have in the previous few years at UCLA.
Important Incoming Freshmen
Safety Kamari Ramsey, receiver Clint Stephens, tight end Jack Pedersen, offensive tackle Sam Yoon, and linebacker Jalen Woods are the highest-rated recruits in the 2022 class, giving Kelly some depth at various positions and the chance to mold young prospects into difference-making players who can change the competitive equation for the Bruins.
Key Position Battles
The UCLA defense was a total disaster last year. Kelly and his new coordinator, Bill McGovern, need to find defensive linemen and linebackers who can significantly upgrade the roster. Developing defensive talent is a central concern for this staff.
Biggest Offseason Goal(s)
The offense needs to max out. The defense needs to be moderately good, at least to the point that it can support the offense and not waste games in which the offense scores 40 points. UCLA must find a way to limit damage on defense. If it can do that, this team can achieve more in 2022.