7 takeaways from UCLA football’s spring showcase

03 May 2022 | 08:58

LOS ANGELES — On the field Saturday at Drake Stadium, it was just like another practice for the UCLA football team. But with several hundred fans in the stands, music pumping and television cameras hovering, the spring showcase provided a different atmosphere for the Bruins as they enter the final week of spring practice.

“It was just practice on TV,” quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said.

But the fifth-year passer added the showcase was “super fun” to be in front of fans and have new faces watch practice either in-person or on the Pac-12 Network.

Here are some takeaways from UCLA’s spring showcase, which featured red-zone work, two-minute drills and 7-on-7 action.

1. Returning stars look ready

Running back Zach Charbonnet and -Robinson head into their fourth and fifth seasons at UCLA, respectively, staying for another year together instead of turning pro.

While the offense has had some bumps during practice this month, with the offensive line unsettled and a new receiving group to work in, Thompson-Robinson and Charbonnet continued to look like poised, improved veterans Saturday.

The mobile Thompson-Robinson mostly stayed in the pocket, but did show off his scrambling ability at least once, while Charbonnet punched in a couple of touchdowns during goal-line situational drills.

2. Will a newcomer be WR1?

Duke transfer Jake Bobo has made a strong first impression in just a few weeks, with coach Chip Kelly acknowledging that he’s “pushing himself to wide receiver one right now.”

Thompson-Robinson will need to find a new top receiver to turn to after Kyle Philips declared for the draft. The 6-foot-5 Bobo, who spent four years as Duke, could be his new target.

3. The other receivers

Bobo, Kazmeir Allen and Titus Mokiao-Atimalala lined up as receivers on the first string Saturday.

Allen seems on track to replace Philips as the slot receiver. Mokiao-Atimalala and Kam Brown, who is nursing an injury and didn’t practice, may be competing for the other spot.

4. A twin introduction

Gabriel and Grayson Murphy, defensive ends who transferred from North Texas, lined up with each other in their first time playing in front of fans and family who made the cross-country trip for the showcase.

The Murphy twins have impressed Kelly and are expected to make an immediate impact on the pass rush.

Gabriel Murphy went down with an apparent left foot injury during 11-on-11 drills Saturday, limping to the sidelines with some assistance but later returning to action.

5. Secondary depth

UCLA’s defensive backfield is looking to turn the page from last season’s struggles. Perhaps new coordinator Bill McGovern and another year of experience for several veterans will help.

Redshirt sophomore cornerback John Humphrey had a nice interception on a Thompson-Robinson pass in the end zone on a two-minute drill. Fans also got a glimpse of four-year starter Stephen Blaylock, sophomore cornerback Devin Kirkwood and safeties redshirt senior Kenny Churchwell III and fifth-year Mo Osling.

“There’s a lot of depth and a lot of competition there, so that’s a positive,” Kelly said.

6. Manoa adjusting well

Tyler Manoa, a former defensive lineman who is switching to the offensive line, started with the ones in a sign he is progressing well as he learns to play right tackle.

The offensive line is a work-in-progress for Kelly, as the Bruins lost three starters from last season. Thompson-Robinson admitted it may take time to adjust to new faces in the protection, but he’s been impressed by Manoa so far.

“He’s playing really good for someone who came over and never played offensive line before,” Thompson-Robinson said. “He’s definitely picking it up well. He’s real athletic for a big guy and can really move his feet well, so I think Tyler’s going to be really good for us.”

7. It’s just spring

There is no depth chart in spring practice, according to Kelly, who tempered questions about whether Manoa could be the Game 1 starter at right tackle.

“I don’t think anybody cares when you get to next fall and get ready to play a game who started at right tackle in [spring practice],” Kelly said.