LOS ANGELES – Chip Kelly had only two choices for his starting quarterback during his first season at UCLA.
He will have a variety of options this time as the Bruins have their first quarterback battle in five years.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson‘s successor is unlikely to be determined until a couple weeks before UCLA’s season opener on Sept. 2 against Coastal Carolina, but Kelly is going to give his five quarterbacks plenty of opportunities during spring practices the next four weeks to prove themselves.
“It’s a really good quarterback room. I’m excited for all of them,” Kelly said. “We’re trying to get a lot of guys reps. We learn by doing. We have to be structured and efficient in what we are doing.”
Kelly only had Michigan graduate transfer Wilton Speight and Thompson-Robinson to consider in 2018. When Speight got injured in the opener, Thompson-Robinson took over and started in only his second collegiate game.
Thompson-Robinson ended up starting a program-record 48 games and also set school records for passing yards, total offense, total touchdowns, passing touchdowns and completions. He also helped lead UCLA from 3-9 in his first season in 2018 to 8-4 last year and an appearance in the Sun Bowl.
Of the five looking to become the starter, Ethan Garbers, Chase Griffin and Justyn Martin have experience in Kelly’s system while Collin Schlee made 11 starts for Kent State last season.
The biggest buzz, though. surrounds Dante Moore, who was the first five-star recruit Kelly has landed since coming to Westwood.
The Detroit native, who won’t turn 18 until May 24, was an early enrollee. He said the Bruins’ move into the Big Ten in 2024 played a role in switching from his early commitment to Oregon.
“The Pac 12 is a great conference, but playing in the Big Ten and having that light on the team was a big factor,” Moore said.
Moore said the biggest learning curve so far is adjusting to the speed of play, especially on deep throws.
“I remember the first week I got here I was a little late on a couple throws and they were just telling me ‘Hey, you know, just adjust to this and that.’ The speed and understanding the offense are the biggest things (to adjust to),” he said.
Garbers has taken the most snaps with the first team through the first week of drills. The redshirt junior has seen action in 11 games at quarterback the past two seasons after he transferred from Washington.
“With Dorian being gone there’s a gap in leadership that needs to be filled and I’ll try to do that,” Garbers said. “This is my third year in this playbook and coach Kelly’s offense, so I think I’m just more comfortable and just diving deeper into it.”
Griffin, a fifth-year senior, has the most experience in the program. He played in four games as a sophomore in 2020, including two starts, and saw action in two games last season.
Schlee made the decision to enter the transfer portal after Kent State coach Sean Lewis left to become Deion Sanders‘ offensive coordinator at Colorado.
“It has definitely been a learning curve because it’s a little bit more of an in-depth offense with different plays, style and lingo. But I’m ready for it and this is what I wanted to do,” said Schlee, who passed for 2,109 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions last season. “I wanted to come here and learn an NFL-style offense so I could improve my learning.”
Martin drew praise from Kelly for his work during the offseason program and becoming faster and stronger. The redshirt freshman is best known for throwing for 13 touchdowns for Inglewood High School in a 106-0 win over Morningside in 2021.
“I feel like I’m not really trying to catch up and learning each week on the install. When I see the plays it’s easier than last spring when I kind of got thrown in,” Martin said.
Thompson-Robinson has remained a presence during the early phases of practice. He was giving pointers and watched drills as he continues preparations for the upcoming draft.