UCLA got its guy in Chip Kelly, but it may take the former Oregon head coach a little bit of time to work is magic with the Bruins in his return to the Pac-12. The offense is rebooting in more ways than one and the top priority for Kelly is to find his quarterback. The defense also will be going through a transition with a scheme change, but there are pieces to build around at both linebacker and in the secondary. UCLA is in good hands, but some patience will be required as it's possible that this fall will look a lot like 2017 when it comes to the win column.
Previewing UCLA Football's Offense for 2018
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It's been close to 20 years since UCLA has owned the front page in Los Angeles, but there's hope that headlines will be returning after the school pulled an offseason coup by landing former Oregon coach Chip Kelly. Though Kelly did not quite find the success he was looking for in the NFL, Pac-12 fans are well aware of his track record with the Ducks, and optimism is running wild in Westwood that he can transform the program and return the Bruins to the top of the standings in short order. Nowhere could the new coach's impact be felt more than on offense, where he will hope to rejuvenate an anemic run game and re-tool just about every position group.
Kelly does inherit a pair of talented (if inconsistent) tailbacks in Bolu Olorunfunmi and Soso Jamabo, but finding a replacement for quarterback Josh Rosen remains priority No. 1 in 2018. Devon Modster is the only signal caller on the roster who has thrown a pass for UCLA, but he'll be pushed by four-star true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson (whose dual-threat abilities make him tailor-made for Kelly's offense) or grad transfer Wilton Speight (who is seemingly an odd fit for Kelly's offense).
Junior Theo Howard leads the way at wide receiver. Expect the Bruins to feature tight ends Caleb Wilson (38 catches, 490 yards in five games before a season-ending injury) and Devin Asiasi (a Michigan transfer) in the passing game. Four-star freshman Kyle Philips, an early enrollee, likely will play right away.
Only two starters are back up front as the offensive line remains a glaring weakness, but the quick tempo Kelly uses may help cover that up -- to a degree.
Previewing UCLA Football's Defense for 2018
UCLA is going through a defensive transition as well, as longtime Kelly assistant Jerry Azzinaro switches the Bruins to a 3-4 alignment. That change will be most noticeable along the line, where there are some quality players but where overall size and depth could be more of an issue than in recent years.
The outlook is better elsewhere on defense. At linebacker, former top recruits Jaelan Phillips and Keisean Lucier-South have an opportunity to thrive coming off the edge. Mique Juarez, a five-star prospect in the class of 2017, is back with the Bruins after leaving the team during preseason camp last summer.
The secondary, coached by the highly respected Paul Rhoads, has a chance to feature several All-Pac-12 selections between seniors Nate Meadors (cornerback) and Adarius Pickett (safety) and talented sophomore corner Darnay Holmes.
Previewing UCLA Football's Specialists for 2018
Kicker JJ Molson made a big jump in efficiency in his sophomore year -- 17-of-21 on field goals after making 12-of-20 in 2016 -- and could be in line for All-Pac-12 honors this year. Stefan Flintoft earned a scholarship down the stretch last season after solidifying the punting position and averaging 42.9 yards per kick.
Kelly is inheriting a full rebuilding job and not a top-25 team like he had when he embarked on his magical run at Oregon. The Bruins do have talent on campus from all those top recruiting classes signed by the previous staff, but there are significant issues on both sides of the ball.
It may not be long before Kelly has the Bruins contending for titles like they did with regularity two decades ago, but there are bound to be a few growing pains in 2018. Even in a wide-open Pac-12 South, this UCLA squad may prove to be more pesky than good as it builds toward a brighter future.