Los Angeles — No detail is too small in what will likely be Chip Kelly’s biggest personnel decision of his first year at UCLA.
“We evaluate how they eat, we evaluate how they walk up and down stairs, we evaluate everything,” Kelly said of judging the hotly-contested quarterback race, which includes graduate transfer Wilton Speight from Michigan. “We’ve got a big decision to make so everything is factored into this in everything they do.”
UCLA has a “wide open” quarterback competition that features five quarterbacks. The presumed leaders of the contest are redshirt sophomore Devon Modster, Speight and freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson, although UCLA was careful not to exclude redshirt sophomore Matt Lynch and redshirt freshman Austin Burton, who also spoke to reporters with the rest of the quarterback candidates on Saturday after practice.
When asked if he had a timeline for when a decision might come, Kelly joked he’d “like to decide on a starter by yesterday.” He knows this isn’t a choice that can be rushed.
“It has to happen organically and authentically,” Kelly said. “I don’t think you can just say, ‘Hey, it’s going to be this,’ because maybe the players don’t feel that way, you know what I mean? Every time I’ve been in one of these, it’s usually that the decision has been made for you and when you make it, everybody’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s the guy who’s played best over the course of time.’”
Each candidate will get an equal opportunity to prove himself, Kelly said. With the tempo of practice and the way coaches run different groups through the same drill simultaneously on different fields, reps are plentiful. How they’re split “doesn’t matter,” the coach said, because the film doesn’t lie.
“They just told us to go out there and compete to the best of our ability and the best guy will play,” Thompson-Robinson said.
Although he is listed at 205 pounds, the slender 6-foot-1 four-star prospect said he is closer to 195 to 200 pounds. When he stepped in front of reporters immediately after Speight, who towers at 6-foot-6 and a sturdy 232 pounds, it was a stark reminder that despite the hype that followed him from Bishop Gorman High, Thompson-Robinson is still a true freshman. He has just two days of college practice under his belt, although he is off to a strong start.
“He’s really athletic,” Kelly said of his first impressions of Thompson-Robinson. “He’s smart, he throws a really good ball, I’m really pleased with what I saw (on the first day of practice).”
Speight said his first training camp as a freshman at Michigan was “like drinking out of a fire hose.” At 23, Speight is the elder statesman of the quarterback room. Although he is new to UCLA, his 16 starts at Michigan puts him in position to offer advice to his younger teammates. In a heated position battle, he doesn’t worry. He’s gone through them before.
“You had a lot of top dogs, top recruits that want to become the starting quarterback at Michigan,” Speight said. “Every year, there’s a competition and whomever won the competition, everyone else had their back and that seems to be the same way here. I’ve only been here for a month and a half, two months, but everyone’s friends.”
On the first day of training camp, Speight and Modster split first-team reps during a walk-through period that was open to the media. When asked if he had a particular philosophy regarding a two-quarterback system, Kelly said he wouldn’t rule it out.
“My philosophy is to try to win, so whoever gives us a chance to win,” Kelly said. “If that means we’ve got to play seven quarterbacks, then I’ll play seven. If it means we play one, we play one.”