UCLA Football: Bruins Spring 2022 Preview – AthlonSports.com

Return of quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson provides stability as Bruins determine their receiving corps and bring in a new defensive coordinator this spring

The apparent consensus among college football pundits heading into 2021 suggested it was a pivotal season for UCLA football. After a disappointing first two full seasons with Chip Kelly at the helm and a promising, if not unsatisfying, pandemic-shortened 2020, the program was expected to show measured improvement.

The Bruins responded with eight wins, their best overall record since 2015 and arguably their most positive season since 2014 as they (noisily) beat rival USC and closed the regular season on a rebound.

An 8-4 rating certainly provides UCLA with a baseline, but is undoubtedly the cap the university’s athletic brass set for Kelly when his hiring was announced in 2017. With the Pac-12 South in a phase of transition and the looming arrival of Lincoln Riley big across town, 2022 could be the year the Bruins must finally crack the conference title game for the first time in a decade.

Related: Spring 2022 Pac-12 Power Rankings

5 stories to watch during UCLA spring practice

1. Another step forward for DTR?

Injuries and various other struggles have plagued quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s tenure at UCLA, but the former 4-star rookie has played his best and most consistent football by a sizable margin in 2021.

After an impressive season, Thompson-Robinson announced plans to use the extra year of eligibility granted due to the COVID-19 season to return in 2022. Building on last season’s momentum, Thompson-Robinson will launches into the new campaign rivaling Utah’s Cameron Rising. as the best quarterback in the Pac-12.

Related: Early 2022 Pac-12 QB Preview & Rankings

2. Restructured Setter Rotation

It goes without saying that much of Thompson-Robinson’s success in 2022 depends on the playmakers around him. Last season in the passing game, he had two of the most reliable targets in the Pac-12 in wide receiver Kyle Phillips and tight end Greg Dulcich. The duo reunited for 101 receptions, 59 by Philips and 42 by Dulcich.

The two left.

The second most productive wide receiver, Chase Cota, had 18 catches. That’s a considerable drop, and Cota is also gone, after being transferred to Oregon.

UCLA’s passing game is going to be markedly different in 2022 in terms of personnel, but it’s not lacking in potential. Kam Brown scored touchdowns on two of his 17 receptions, while Kazmeir Allen entered the end zone four times with the same number of strikes.

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Allen is a particularly intriguing playmaker, a quick Swiss army knife in the vein of former Bruin Demetric Felton. Using it in 2022, presumably as a primary option, could open unique opportunities for UCLA to expand the field. Meanwhile, Duke transfer Jake Bobo brings much-needed experience to the receiver room.

Replacing Dulcich will probably be the biggest challenge. UCLA has a long list of outstanding pass-catching tight ends, including in each of Kelly’s four seasons. Spring is the first opportunity for Michael Ezeike to take over this role.

3. Two big gaps in high school

Defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight was an all-around powerhouse for the Bruins last season, leading the team in tackles (66), tackles for one loss (8.5) and breaking second pass attempts at three. Category leader Quentin Lake with six is ​​also gone.

The veteran Lake added three interceptions, also a team high, shared with Jay Shaw. Shaw blasted his intention to return to UCLA on Instagram in January, but less than two weeks later made an about-face that sent him to the transfer gate and ultimately Wisconsin.

The Bruins secondary is not without experience, welcoming back Stephan Blaylock, Martell Irby and Kenny Churchwell, but replicating the lost production of the trio of Knight, Lake and Shaw can be a tall order.

4. Impact Transfers

A slew of transfers join UCLA’s roster this offseason. The transfer gate has been good for the program under Kelly’s tenure, from the Michigan quarterback/tandem of Wilton Speight and Devin Asisi, to the return of Ann Arbor import running back Zach Charbonnet.

In 2022, transfers will be considered to meet certain pressing needs. Laiatu Latu previously played in Washington before declaring medical retirement, but is making a comeback as a Bruin. Inside defensive lineman Gary Smith III of Duke will be on the same unit as Latu. The secondary welcomes Azizi Hearn, a three-year starter at Wyoming after a season at Arizona. Linebacker Darius Muasau was an All-Mountain West Conference winner in Hawaii.

Related: Pac-12 Transfer Class Rankings For 2022

5. Governing Defense

UCLA’s biggest personnel shakeup of 2022 involves the most frequently questioned role during Kelly’s time with the Bruins. Jerry Azzinaro is out, stepping down as defensive coordinator in January, and Bill McGovern is in.

McGovern is an interesting choice, bringing plenty of experience – almost 40 years, in fact – but with limited experience as a coordinator. He oversaw the UMass defense in 1993 when the Minutemen shared an FCS conference with Kelly’s alma mater New Hampshire (though before Kelly or mentor Sean McDonnell coached the Wildcats) and the D at Boston College from 2009-12. For most of the past decade, he worked as a linebackers coach in the NFL.

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— Written by Kyle Kensing, Athlon Contributor Network and Southern California sportswriter. Follow him on Twitter @KyleKensing.