While Dorian Thompson-Robinson stayed mum on his status earlier this week, UCLA coach Chip Kelly affirmed Friday that the quarterback’s participation in practice isn’t just for show. With one week remaining until the Sun Bowl, the fifth-year senior is on track to finish his UCLA career on the field against Pittsburgh.
“Obviously we got a week if an injury or something occurs, but we haven’t had any discussions and he’s taking all the snaps,” Kelly said.
After taking this weekend off, the Bruins will head to El Paso on Monday to continue preparing for the Sun Bowl, where they will try to win their 10th game and equal the school record for wins in a season. The traveling party will include defensive coordinator Bill McGovern, who missed the last five games for an unspecified reason.
The first-year coordinator has been on the field at practice this week, a positive sign for his status on Dec. 30, but Kelly said the final decision will come in Texas.
“We’re just happy that Billy’s back in the office and up and moving around,” Kelly said.
Receiver Kazmier Allen and defensive lineman Gary Smith III were the only key players unavailable for practice Friday and Kelly said, “we’ll see what happens next week,” although neither has practiced during the last week, making their chances of playing in the season finale slim. Smith has two years of eligibility left and battled through a minor injury this year after transferring from Duke. He appeared in nine games with 18 tackles. Allen, a fifth-year senior who is out of eligibility and could declare for the NFL draft, is UCLA’s second-leading receiver with 49 catches and 403 receiving yards.
Thompson-Robinson and running back Zach Charbonnet are UCLA’s two most prominent NFL draft prospects who could opt out of the bowl game to focus on their pro ambitions, but both have been on the field every day this week. However, Charbonnet didn’t appear to take all his scheduled reps on Thursday during the brief media viewing period, instead looking on as fellow running backs Keegan Jones, T.J. Harden and Colson Yankoff took handoffs and caught short passes from quarterbacks.
Running back Christian Grubb took turns in the drill after entering the transfer portal as a grad transfer Wednesday. The former high school track star who won Southern Section Division 3 titles in the 100 and 200 meters and triple jump suffered a torn Achilles early in his career and has appeared in just three games during four seasons.
Grubb is one of several players who have announced their intention to transfer while also participating in UCLA’s bowl preparation. Quarterback Chase Artopoeus has already committed to Tennessee Chattanooga and dutifully pulled on a scout team jersey this week. Portal-bound kicker/punter Nicholas Barr-Mira is still taking place-kicking reps at practice, showing that there are no hard feelings for UCLA players looking for their next opportunities.
“Our job is whether they’re here for one day or they’re here for 1,000 days is to help them,” Kelly said. “If it’s to go play your last year somewhere where you get an opportunity to get on the field and not be a scout player here, then we’re all for it.… But it’s a testament to all those guys in terms of their character and the type of kids they are that they’re here through the bowl. And they deserve it, they deserve to be part of the bowl experience and we want them to be a part of it.”
The experience comes with up to 15 practices that can provide transfers with valuable film to present to potential coaches and help remaining players solidify a foundation for their future at UCLA. Kelly said the month of bowl preparation is “like another spring practice.”
With the additional practice opportunities, freshmen defensive back Kamari Ramsey and receivers Braden Pegan and Jaydn Marshall are expected to play in the bowl game, Kelly said. They participated sparingly during the regular season and can retain their redshirt status by playing in fewer than five games.
Although the Bruins will get a glimpse at their future as the young players make their postseason debuts, Kelly is more focused on finishing the present year with a flourish.
“Our goal is to go win this football game,” Kelly said. “It’s not about showing anybody off or giving anybody valuable reps for the future. The future is seven days from today.”