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Led by familiar faces, UCLA’s high-powered offense looks to keep rolling

Two names highlight why UCLA is expected to remain among the top of the Pac-12 this season in most offensive categories: Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet.

And perhaps a third: Chip Kelly.

Kelly, who made his name in coaching on prolific offenses, has the luxury of a returning fifth-year quarterback and fourth-year running back — a quarterback largely responsible for the Pac-12’s highest-scoring offense a year ago and a running back being floated as a darkhorse Heisman candidate.

That’s not accounting for their growth in leadership skills, which is where Thompson-Robinson said he grew the most over the offseason.

“Everybody thinks you just go out there and throw a ball and you lead,” Thompson-Robinson said, putting his fingers in quotation marks. “What’s leading if you don’t know what you’re doing?”

Thompson-Robinson has helped Charbonnet become a leader as well, inviting him to work at a youth football camp over the offseason. Charbonnet, coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season, will be taking handoffs from a quarterback who also can run a bit. Thompson-Robinson finished 10th in the Pac-12 last season in rushing yards per game in addition to leading the conference in passing efficiency.

As a team, UCLA led the Pac-12 at 36.5 points per game last season and trailed only USC in yards per game at 441.3.

But if the Bruins are to take the next step after an 8-4 season, Thompson-Robinson and Charbonnet may need to have even better campaigns in 2022.

There are unknowns on the offense, with the departures of wide receiver Kyle Philips and tight end Greg Dulcich for the NFL and a revamped offensive line. But Kelly has used the transfer portal to bring in reinforcements, including Duke transfer Jake Bobo, who is expected to be WR1 come Saturday.

“It’s cool to be in an offense where any down and distance, you can take it to the house,” Bobo said.


Thompson-Robinson has been the steady hand guiding the Bruins since he stepped onto the field in 2018, and last year might have been his best so far. The Las Vegas native threw for 21 touchdowns and rushed for nine more, and was one of three players in the conference to record 3,000 yards of total offense.

His development both as a player and a leader should only serve the team well, as will his desire to reach the Rose Bowl Game in his final collegiate season.

The question for the fifth-year signal caller will be finding a rhythm with new receivers, given the departures of top targets Philips and Dulcich.

UCLA returns just under a third of its receiving production from last year. Thompson-Robinson will have to click with Bobo and another transfer, Titus Mokiao-Atimalala. The top returning receiver from last year, Kazmeir Allen, is expected to replace Philips as the starting slot receiver.

Ethan Garbers, who was a capable backup last season, will remain in that role this year. Chase Griffin and freshman Justyn Martin, who Thompson-Robinson has taken under his wing, will slot in behind Garbers on the depth chart.


The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Charbonnet bulked up in the offseason, which should be a scary sight for Pac-12 defenses.

Last year was his first at UCLA after two seasons at Michigan, and he led the Pac-12 with seven 100-yard games. He was also third in all-purpose yards per game and was in the top 25 in the nation in rushing yards.

The depth chart behind Charbonnet should be interesting as the Bruins lost the 616 rushing yards and seven touchdowns they got from Brittain Brown last season as Charbonnet’s backup.

Keegan Jones, who Kelly said had a “great offseason” and “added to his game,” is listed as the backup ahead of Saturday’s season opener. Freshman TJ Harden and redshirt freshman Deshun Murrell also are in the mix, and Allen could moonlight as a running back.

“We feel pretty good about where we are behind Zach right now,” Kelly said.


Bobo emerged as early as spring practice as the potential lead receiver. He had a career year last season at Duke, with 74 receptions for 794 yards, which ranked ninth in the ACC.

UCLA hopes Bobo can serve as a reliable third down option, a safety valve of sorts. Bobo was one of UCLA’s two skilled wide receiver pick-ups from the transfer portal, with Mokiao-Atimalala from UCF also coming over and impressing the coaching staff right away.

“Jake has been outstanding,” Kelly said in the spring. “He can make contested catches. He’s a big, strong, physical target. He’s smart, he’s intelligent. I know Dorian and all our quarterbacks are really happy that they can look out wide and see No. 9 there.”

The key returning receivers include Allen in the slot, along with Kam Brown, Logan Loya and Matt Sykes. Brown had 17 catches for 247 yards last season while Loya played sparingly.

To replace what the Bruins lost in receiving targets in Philips, Dulcich and Chase Cota, they’ll need immediate production out of their two transfers and the returners to break out in 2022.

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