After offseason overhaul, UCLA defense set for opening test

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LOS ANGELES – When Chip Kelly signed a four-year extension to remain as UCLA’s coach, making changes to his defensive staff was at the top of his to-do list.

It turned out the offseason changes weren’t just confined to the coaching staff.

When the Bruins open the season Saturday at the Rose Bowl against Bowling Green, the defense will have only two starters and one assistant returning from the unit that took the field nine months earlier in the regular-season finale against California.

“I think (the staff has) meshed well as a group in presenting the package and making sure the group has grasped it before going on to the next step,” Kelly said. “I’ve been impressed with how they played in the spring preseason game and now we get a chance to test it on Saturday against another team.”

Headlining the changes is Bill McGovern at defensive coordinator following the resignation of Jerry Azzinaro. McGovern was on Kelly’s staff with the Philadelphia Eagles from 2013-15 and was the inside linebackers coach for the Chicago Bears last season.

McGovern, who is a coordinator for the first time in 10 years, when he was at Boston College, was pleased with the installation process and how players adapted to new schemes throughout preseason camp.

“The guys we have are sharp guys, they pick stuff up very quickly,” he said. “One of the biggest things is finding out what our guys do well and try to put them in those situations and let them excel in there.”

McGovern’s biggest task is fixing a pass defense that has struggled in recent years. The Bruins allowed 260.2 passing yards per game last season, the worst in the Pac-12 and 56th out of 64 Power Five schools.

UCLA allowed over 300 yards three times and at least 280 yards in half of its 12 games.

The Bruins ran a nickel as their base defense the past couple seasons, but McGovern has changed things up a little bit with a variation of a 4-3. North Texas transfer Gabriel Murphy and Bo Calvert, one of only two returning starters, will be expected to provide the pass rush as hybrid defensive linemen/outside linebackers.

Murphy had seven sacks at North Texas last season and is one of three transfers who will start Saturday, along with linebacker Darius Muasau (Hawaii) and Azizi Hearn (Wyoming) at cornerback.

“Everybody always wants to know, ‘Are you 3-4, 4-3?’ You gotta be everything,” McGovern said. “You can’t live just in man or in a straight zone. You’re gonna have to have what we call tools in different coverages to help with different routes. Guys are getting a hang of that, but we’re running a complete defensive package.”

Kelly also brought on former UCLA standout and three-time Super Bowl champion Ken Norton Jr. as inside linebackers coach. Norton had been coaching in the NFL since 2010 and had been a coordinator the past seven seasons with the Raiders and Seattle Seahawks.

Norton has been the most vocal coach during practices when it has come to instructing and motivating his players.

“Just through our research, we wanted to get some NFL-style coaching,” Kelly said. “I think we’ve done a really good job against the run, but we need to do a better job in pass defense, so some of the principles that Bill and Ken have and pass rush schemes is kind of what we were looking for.”

Chad Kauha'aha'a (defensive line) and Ikaika Malloe (outside linebackers/special teams), who have experience in the Pac-12, were also added to the staff.

Safety Stephan Blaylock, who has made 31 straight starts for the Bruins, said forcing turnovers has been an increased focus since spring drills.

“We want to be physical, run to the ball and get off the field,” he said. “We don’t want to keep our offense cold. We wanna get our playmakers out there and put points up on the board.”

With temperatures expected to reach 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 Celsius) Saturday, UCLA will be cycling through plenty of players. The first three nonconference games – which also include FCS foe Alabama State and South Alabama – should also give the Bruins a chance to get plenty of underclassmen some game experience.

Vick, Fitzgerald and Suggs among stars on College Football Hall of Fame ballot for 1st time

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Michael Vick, Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs are among the college football stars who will be considered for induction to the Hall of Fame for the first time this year.

The National Football Foundation released Monday a list of 78 players and nine coaches from major college football who are on the Hall of Fame ballot. There also are 101 players and 32 coaches from lower divisions of college football up for consideration.

Vick, who led Virginia Tech to the BCS championship game against Florida State as a redshirt freshman in 1999, is among the most notable players appearing on the ballot in his first year of eligibility.

Vick finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1999. He played one season of college football before being drafted No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001. Vick’s professional career was interrupted when he served 21 months in prison for his involvement in dog fighting.

Fitzgerald was the Heisman runner-up in 2003 to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White. He scored 34 touchdowns in just two seasons at Pitt.

Suggs led the nation in sacks with 24 in 2002 for Arizona State.

The 2024 Hall of Fame class will be chosen by the National Football Foundation’s Honors Court and announced in January. Induction into the Atlanta-based hall is the following December.

Alabama freshman DB Mitchell says he wasn’t sure he’d get to play again after arrest

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama defensive back Tony Mitchell said he feared his football career was over after his arrest on a drug charge.

The Crimson Tide freshman said in a video posted Sunday on social media that he knew “something much bigger could have happened.”

A judge in Holmes County, Florida, sentenced Mitchell to three years of probation with a fine and community service on May 24 after Mitchell pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis.

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to play football again, but I continued to work out and stay close with the Lord and those who love me unconditionally,” Mitchell said. “During those times, it helped me to keep my mind off it. But when I was by myself looking at social media, what everybody had to say about it, it just felt like it happened again.

“I didn’t sleep at night.”

He was suspended from the Alabama team following the arrest, but Mitchell’s father, Tony Sr., posted on Facebook last week that the defensive back had been reinstated. An Alabama spokesman declined to comment on Mitchell’s status.

Tony Mitchell Sr. shared his son’s video on Facebook, saying it was filmed during a talk to youth.

“I was doing things I knew I shouldn’t to try to fit in,” the younger Mitchell said, “but not everybody’s your friend.”

Mitchell, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, was a four-star prospect and the 15th-rated safety in the 247Composite rankings.

He had been charged in March with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell after a traffic stop when authorities said he drove over 141 mph (227 kph) while trying to evade deputies in the Florida Panhandle. A deputy had spotted Mitchell’s black Dodge Challenger traveling 78 mph (125 kph) in a 55 mph (88 kph) zone on a rural highway north of Bonifay.

He also received 100 hours of community service and paid a fine of $1,560.

Mitchell and a passenger were both charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, according to a Holmes County Sheriff’s Office arrest report. The other man also was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit.