UCLA closes spring football practice healthy and optimistic

The UCLA Bruins football team finished the 2020 season with a bad taste in their mouths and if the final spring practice is any indication, they are ready to spring into action this fall to get that taste out of their mouths. After an abbreviated 3-4 season that ended up with tough home losses to USC and Stanford, the Bruins look prepared for their first winning season since the 2015 season.

Bruins head coach Chip Kelly, in his fourth season at the helm of the Bruins football team, was pleased with the work his team was able to get done this spring. "I thought both sides (offense and defense) had great energy, great attitude, and had it for the 15 training sessions," Kelly said. "The biggest fear was to lose someone to a long-term injury. We get out of this clean and we're pleased from a health standpoint."

The Bruins return 20 of 22 starters and with 114 players in camp, were able to rest many of their veteran players and give the younger players more reps on the field. Because of their depth and the number of upperclassmen returning, Kelly and his coaching staff were able to get a lot of work done with players that normally do not get a lot of practice reps during the season.

Kelly used the two fields at Spaulding Field to run 11-on-11 drills. By using both fields, the Bruins were able to get 44 players involved in drills, as opposed to 22 on one field. With the filming of each practice, Kelly and his staff are hoping to provide more teachable moments to each player. Defensively, the Bruins do not lack for speed and energy. Hopefully, that will translate into more big plays on defense in 2021.

One of the new players on the field that was impressive was running back Zach Charbonnet, a transfer from Michigan. Charbonnet played his high school football at Oaks Christian high school in Westlake Village. Charbonnet was a star on the Michigan team as a freshman, rushing for 726 yards and setting a Michigan Wolverines freshman record with 11 rushing touchdowns.

Charbonnet saw his share of the carries decrease in his second season, rushing for 124 yards on 19 carries in five games. He did average 6.8 yards per carry, most of which came on a 70-yard touchdown run against Minnesota. Charbonnet was impressive in the final spring practice for the Bruins. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Charbonnet is very similar to former Bruin's star running back Joshua Kelly, now with the Los Angeles Chargers.

"Zach is a guy that obviously moves really well for his size," said Kelly. "His ability to run between the tackles, he's a lot like Josh Kelly from that standpoint. He can do a lot of things. He is really smart. He has been fun to coach. He is a real student of the game." The Bruins backfield is loaded, with returning starter Brittain Brown, Charbonnet, Keegan Jones, Kazmeir Allen, and highly coveted freshman running back Deshun Murrell, who chose UCLA over Penn State.

Jones was the state champion in the 200 meters in high school in Tennessee. Allen was a California state champion in the 100 meters. With athletic Dorian Thompson-Robinson at quarterback, the Bruins will bring a potent running attack to the field in 2021. The Bruins were 12th in rushing offense in the nation in 2020 and there is no reason to believe that will not continue to be an area of strength in 2021.

The Pac-12 announced their early season football TV schedule covering the first three weeks of the season and the Bruins will be on center stage for the first two weeks of the season. In Week Zero, the Bruins will open at home in the Rose Bowl against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. The game will start at 12:30 PM on Saturday, August 28th and will be televised nationally on ESPN.

In Week One, the Bruins will host the LSU Tigers on Saturday, September 4th, in a game that will start at 5:30 PM in the Rose Bowl and will be televised nationally on FOX. LSU is coming off a 5-5 season and ranked 124th in total defense last season. But the Tigers won the national championship in 2019 and their 2021 recruiting class ranked third in the nation, behind only Alabama and Ohio State. This will be a huge test for the Bruins and their football program.

In Week Three, the Bruins will be off, but the rest of the Pac-12 will be busy. Oregon will play at Ohio State, Texas A&M at Colorado, and Stanford at USC, all nationally televised on FOX. Cal will play at TCU on ESPNU, and Washington will travel to Michigan to take on the Wolverines on ABC. The first three weeks of the season could impact the chances for the Pac-12 to return to the NCAA playoffs. The first two weeks of the season will tell us a lot about the Bruins as well.


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