LOS ANGELES (AP) — Theo Howard was still sweating from the exertion of an early training camp practice at UCLA when the receiver paused to sum up his experience so far with coach Chip Kelly.
“It’s high tempo,” Howard said. “It’s pretty fast. It’s a step up from what we were doing last year. We’re always running down the field, always doing something.”
Kelly led the speed-based revolution in college football during his wildly successful four-year tenure at Oregon. His next act in the college game has only just begun at long-underachieving UCLA, where hungry boosters have finally landed the world-class coach they’ve always coveted to lead the program past crosstown rival USC and into the game’s stratosphere.
UCLA will play fast, of course. Yet remarkably little else is really known about what the Bruins will look like when Kelly leads them onto the Rose Bowl field to face Cincinnati on Sept. 1 in the school’s most anticipated opener in many years.
Kelly’s inventive reputation wasn’t dampened by two false starts in the NFL, and his work is going on mostly in secret this month. He has kept practices largely closed in training camp, and he easily sidesteps any concrete questioning about his plans for this team in transition.
Kelly doesn’t even like the idea of setting public goals about the near future for the Bruins, who haven’t won the Pac-12 since 1998.
“We don’t have any expectations,” Kelly said early in camp. “I’ve never been an expectation guy, because I think if you want to be real happy in your life, then set really low expectations. We’re really happy because we don’t have any expectations. My only expectation, to be honest with you, is that they play hard, and we’ve been getting great effort. So I think that part has been accomplished.”
Here are more things to watch in Westwood and Pasadena this fall:
AFTER ROSEN: Along with Kelly’s arrival, the Bruins are making a significant adjustment to Josh Rosen’s departure. The gifted quarterback didn’t do an extraordinary amount of winning during his three seasons in Westwood, but his clear talent made him a first-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals. Kelly is currently working to identify Rosen’s successor among a crew of six candidates including returnee Devon Modster, Michigan transfer Wilton Speight and freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Kelly hasn’t tipped his hand yet, and he might not do it until game week.
REBUILDING D: The Bruins’ biggest problem during Jim Mora’s last season was a porous defense under coordinator Tom Bradley, whose unit gave up a jaw-dropping 3,736 yards rushing — over 1,000 yards more than the previous school record. Kelly’s choice to rebuild the unit was coordinator Jerry Azzinaro, a former assistant to Kelly’s longtime Oregon defensive coordinator, Nick Aliotti. UCLA will use a 3-4 scheme up front, and defensive end Jaelan Phillips is back with the chance to become one of the nation’s top defensive players.
SNAP IT: One tidbit to emerge from the first weeks of training camp was the Bruins’ struggles to snap the ball correctly in Kelly’s offense. UCLA wants several linemen to be able to step in at center if necessary, so the ever-changing group of players along the line is taking extra time to learn new skills. Kelly’s devilishly effective rushing schemes at Oregon require speed and versatility from his linemen, who will clear space for a solid group of returning tailbacks including Bolu Olorunfunmi and Soso Jamabo.
HOWARD’S TIME: Howard’s junior year could be an opportunity for a breakout by the talented pass-catcher who made 56 catches while starting 10 games last year. Howard was an elite recruit two years ago out of Westlake Village, and he has caught a pass in 16 straight games. He’ll have plenty of opportunities as the most experienced receiver on a team that lost several players at his position, including Jordan Lasley and Darren Andrews.
SCHEDULE: The new quarterback’s opening stretch of games will feature one daunting challenge, but it could be a whole lot worse. The visit from the Bearcats can’t possibly be as insane as last year’s opener (can it?), in which Rosen and the Bruins rallied from a late 34-point deficit for a 45-44 victory over Texas A&M. The following week could be brutal as the Bruins travel to Oklahoma, but they’ve got a comfortable ensuing stretch against Fresno State and Colorado, with a bye week in between.