LOS ANGELES — On the field Saturday at Drake Stadium, it felt like another practice for the UCLA football team. But with several hundred fans in the stands, music and television cameras hovering, the spring showcase provided a different atmosphere for the Bruins as they entered the final week of spring training.
“It was just practice on TV,” quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said.
But the fifth-year setter added that the showcase was “super fun” to be in front of fans and have new faces watch the practice in person or on the Pac-12 Network.
Here are some takeaways from UCLA’s spring showcase, which included red zone work, two-minute drills and 7-on-7 action.
1. The returning stars seem ready
Running back Zach Charbonnet and -Robinson are entering their fourth and fifth seasons at UCLA, respectively, staying together another year instead of turning pro.
Although the offense suffered a few bumps in practice this month, with the offensive line shaky and a new receiving group to work in, Thompson-Robinson and Charbonnet continued to look like balanced and improved veterans on Saturday. .
The mobile Thompson-Robinson stayed mostly in the pocket, but showed his scrambling ability at least once, while Charbonnet scored a few touchdowns during goal-line situational drills.
2. Will a newcomer be WR1?
Duke transfer Jake Bobo has made a strong first impression in just weeks, with coach Chip Kelly acknowledging he’s “pushing himself to wide receiver right now.”
Thompson-Robinson will have to find a new top receiver to turn to after Kyle Philips declares for the draft. The 6-foot-5 Bobo, who spent four years as Duke, could be his new target.
3. Other receivers
Bobo, Kazmeir Allen and Titus Mokiao-Atimalala lined up as receivers on Channel One on Saturday.
Allen seems on track to replace Philips as a slot receiver. Mokiao-Atimalala and Kam Brown, who is nursing an injury and has not trained, could be in contention for the other spot.
4. A double introduction
Gabriel and Grayson Murphy, defensive ends transferred from North Texas, lined up for the first time in front of fans and their families who traveled across the country for the showcase.
The Murphy twins have impressed Kelly and should have an immediate impact on the pass rush.
Gabriel Murphy injured his left foot in 11-on-11 practice on Saturday, limping on the sidelines with help but later returning to action.
5. Secondary depth
UCLA’s defensive backfield is looking to turn the page on last season’s struggles. Maybe new coordinator Bill McGovern and another year of experience for several veterans will come in handy.
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-old starter Stephen Blaylock, sophomore cornerback Devin Kirkwood and redshirt senior safety Kenny Churchwell III and fifth-year Mo Osling.
“There’s a lot of depth and a lot of competition there, so that’s positive,” Kelly said.
6. Manoa adapts well
Tyler Manoa, a former defensive lineman moving to the offensive line, started with those in a sign that he’s progressing well as he learns to play good tackle.
The offensive line is a work in progress for Kelly, as the Bruins lost three starters last season. Thompson-Robinson admitted it may take time to adjust to the new faces of protection, but he has been impressed with Manoa so far.
“He’s playing really well for someone who’s come in who’s never played on the offensive line before,” Thompson-Robinson said. “He certainly picks it up well. He’s really athletic for a big guy and can move his feet really well, so I think Tyler is going to be really good for us.
7. It’s just spring
There’s no depth chart in spring training, according to Kelly, who tempered questions about whether Manoa could be the Game 1 starter at right tackle.
“I don’t think anyone cares when you get to next fall and are getting ready to play a game that started at the right tackle in [spring practice]”, said Kelly.
Besides more fans showing up than usual compared to practices at Spaulding Field and a post-practice autograph session, Saturday’s spring showcase was just “practice opportunity 12,” said Kelly.
UCLA will wrap up spring training with three more sessions next week, though a scheduling quirk with the Pac-12 network put the showcase on Saturday instead of at the end of the month.
“I don’t think it changed anyone’s mindset or approach,” Kelly said. “This group loves to play football, so they are delighted that we have next week to continue playing football. Every time you put [the showcase] has no importance.