UCLA season preview: Running backs

July, 30, 2012
7/30/12
10:36
AM PT
With UCLA training camp set to begin Aug. 4 at Cal State San Bernardino, we're taking a preseason look at the roster and breaking down the Bruins position by position.

We overviewed the quarterbacks, offensive line and receivers and will now complete the offense by previewing the running backs.

DEPTH CHART AT THE END OF SPRING PRACTICE:
Tailback
Johnathan Franklin (5-11, 195, Sr.)
Malcolm Jones (6-0, 220, Jr.)
Steven Manfro (5-9, 192, Fr.)
Damien Thigpen (5-8, 178, Jr.)
Melvin Emesibe (5-9, 197, Fr.)

Fullback
David Allen (6-2, 225, Sr.)
Alek Cusick (6-0, 215, Jr.)
Luke Gane (6-1, 242, So.)
Phillip Ruhl (6-0, 235, So.)

PROJECTED OPENING-DAY DEPTH CHART:
Tailback
Johnathan Franklin (5-11, 195, Sr.)
Malcolm Jones (6-0, 220, Jr.)
Steven Manfro (5-9, 192, Fr.)
Damien Thigpen (5-8, 178, Jr.)
Paul Perkins (5-11, 192, Fr.)
Fabian Moreau (6-0, 180, Fr.)
Melvin Emesibe (5-9, 197, Fr.)

Fullback
David Allen (6-2, 225, Sr.)
Alek Cusick (6-0, 215, Jr.)
Luke Gane (6-1, 242, So.)
Phillip Ruhl (6-0, 235, So.)

KEY LOSSES:
Derrick Coleman, 152 carries, 794 yards, 11 TDs. Graduated.

THE SKINNY:
Despite the loss of Derrick Coleman, the team leader in touchdowns last season, this figures to be the deepest position group on the offense and boasts the most accomplished offensive player on the roster in Johnathan Franklin. What remains to be seen, however, is exactly how the running backs are used as the Bruins transition from the run-heavy Pistol offense of the past two seasons to the pass-oriented spread that new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is bringing.

Franklin will get the bulk of the carries no matter how often UCLA runs the ball. He's been the team workhorse the past two seasons, with a combined 380 carries for 2,103 yards and 13 touchdowns. He started all 14 games last season and likely will do the same this season, provided he stays healthy.

He's a Doak Walker Award candidate and is ninth on the UCLA all-time rushing list. He has good field awareness and ample quickness to hit the holes. He's also shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, which will be a significant asset as the Bruins transition to Mazzone's offense.

Malcolm Jones, the national high school player of the year as a senior at Oaks Christian High in Westlake Village, Calif., has spent his first two seasons as a role player. But this season he should finally get his shot as a featured back. He employs a power running game that will allow him to fill the role of third-down and short-yardage specialist vacated by Coleman. Jones has 303 yards and a touchdown in 80 carries over his first two seasons.

Redshirt freshman Steven Manfro was the standout of spring practice as he displayed uncanny open-field moves that often left defenders in the dust. He has excellent speed and surprising power for his size. He'll give defenses a completely different look when he's in the game, as he'll certainly vacate the backfield and become the fifth receiver in five-receiver sets. If spring practice is any indication of things to come, he could be among the most exciting players on the team this season.

Damien Thigpen is a similar player to Manfro, and the two will probably be competing for playing time as they will fill a similar role. A converted defensive back, Thigpen boasts sprinter-class speed and was a high school All-American in track. He's had trouble staying healthy, however; a strained hamstring forced him to miss all of last season and a hip injury sidelined him for most of spring practice.

Jordon James is listed as a receiver but originally was a running back. He fits a similar mold to Manfro and Thigpen as an exciting open-field playmaker, so look for those three to cross over between F-receiver and running back as the season develops.

The Bruins have high hopes for incoming freshmen Paul Perkins and Fabian Moreau. They are excellent athletes with the type of speed, quickness and versatility that will serve them well in Mazzone's offense. With the depth at the position, however, they will probably redshirt this season unless they are needed because of injuries. Melvin Emesibe is a walk-on who is not likely to get any playing time.

Fullback is a new position in the UCLA offense as the Bruins had none the past two seasons. David Allen, a converted linebacker, will take the lead role there after playing only special teams the past two seasons. Mazzone will use two-back sets sporadically, but don't count on seeing Allen carrying the ball too often as the fullback will be almost exclusively have a blocking role.

Walk-ons Philip Ruhl and Alex Cusick are also converted linebackers, and Luke Gane, also a walk-on, is a converted tight end. Playing time will be scarce at fullback, so they are more likely to see action on special teams.

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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2014 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
B. Hundley33202420
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
P. Perkins16805.00
B. Hundley15392.61
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
J. Payton89812.30
T. Duarte33913.00
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense116242358
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring28208