A Stable Of Talented But Unproven UCLA RBs: Who Will Step Up?

One of the Bruin backs who will look to bush through in 09: Jonathan Franklin (Photo Credit: dabruins07 (flickr)).

Let's pick up from our discussions on quarterbacks. When discussing QBs, we talked about how we need Kevin Prince or Richard Brehaut - whoever among those two step up as the signal caller this season - to develop into efficient manager of our offense. Well as BruinAl mentioned in the comment thread our quarterback "can only manage a game if there is a running game to manage." That all depends on whether our OL which was battered and depleted last season, will be able to improve upon from the dreadful performance of this past year. It also will depend on whether a group of talented but unproven stable of running backs will be able to step up for the Bruins this year.

Already this off season a number of great previews have gone up regarding our running back depth chart. If you haven't done it yet you should read up captainqtp's upgrade or downgade post on our backs and his followup. The guy who everyone is talking about is redshirt junior Christian Ramirez. From Sam Saig on All Pac-10 blog:

If there is a headliner to be found in this group, then redshirt junior Christian Ramirez is probably it. The 6-2 220 pound athlete missed the 2008 season due to academic ineligibility. Ramirez began his career as a safety before switching to tailback in 2007. He debuted as a running back against Stanford and wasted no time impressing the coaches, rushing for 55 yards on 5 carries, including a 24-yard scramble. For his career, Ramirez has run for 104 yards on 19 carries and has one career touchdown.

The El Centro California native might not have much experience, but his upside is exciting. While at Imperial High School (CA), Ramirez set a single-season school rushing record with 1,558 yards and 23 touchdowns. That season, he had a game in which he rushed for 304 yards and five touchdowns, another school record.

Ramirez runs with a slashing style and possesses a nice combination of size and speed. Norm Chow’s 1-back set should allow for Ramirez to flourish, but only if the offensive line can open up some running lanes. Unfortunately, Ramirez missed most of spring with a hamstring problem. If he can return to full speed this fall, UCLA may have their feature back.

CRN is excited about Ramirez. More back talk after the jump.

Chris Foster in his LAT's post on UCLA RB provided the following observation from CRN on Ramirez's potential of providng multidimensional options out of the backfield:

Ramirez's size (6 feet 2, 222 pounds) and speed are augmented by his pass catching abilities, making him extremely useful in offensive coordinator Norm Chow’s schemes.

"He can go out and make you a three-wide receiver team without any substitution," Neuheisel said.

This won’t be a solo act, as Neuheisel said, "Everyone pretty much does tailback by committee."

Speaking of other backs, Aundre Dean and Raymond Carter have moved on. As we have mentioned this off season they just couldn't break through in our offense schme in which Chow often uses two tail back sets, requiring them to be well adept in pass blocking. Behind Ramirez for now we have Derrick Coleman and Johnathan Franklin. I am excited to see how Derrick builds on his freshman season:

The leading rusher among backs returning to Westwood this fall is sophomore Derrick Coleman. As a freshman last season, Coleman ran for a respectable 291 yards and two TD’s on only 53 carries (5.4 yards per carry).

At 6-0 231 pounds, Coleman has tremendous size and strength, while displaying deceptive speed. Like Moline, he is great in short yardage situations and figures to see a lot of carries on 3rd down. Coleman flashed his potential against Fresno State last year, running for a team-high 86 yards on 10 carries. Coleman will start the 2009 season right behind Ramirez on the RB depth chart.

The kid Coleman reminds me off is Manuel White (who apparently Karl Dorrell forgot was on the team in his first game as a UCLA football coach in Colorado). He is a big bruising back but I wonder if Chow will use him in situations asking him to catch the ball out of the backfield. He only had 4 receptions this past year but then again we didn't have much time to throw behind our dreadful OL. I just love the way he churns straight up and given the fact that he gets more than 5 yards per carry, giving him usually is a good bet for putting our offense in favorable down positions.

While we are all excited about Coleman's power, it will fun to check out Franklin's speed. More from Sam's piece in the All Pac 10 blog:

The speed element of UCLA’s running attack could be provided by redshirt freshman Jonathan Franklin. The 5-10 200 pound sprinter is also a track star and will give Norm Chow a potential home-run threat.  Franklin impressed coaches during his redshirt year, earning co-MVP honors on the scout team.

He is a skilled receiver out of the backfield as well, giving the UCLA offense another mismatch capability. Rivals.com rated him as the 16th best athlete of the 2008 class, and gave him four-stars. The Dorsey High (Los Angeles, CA) standout is a strong pass-blocker as well.

Guess the key will be how Franklin also handles pass blocking schemes. I think if he gets the hang of that we will see him getting some carries. Again from the LAT sounds like CRN took note of Franklin's potential:

Neuheisel also singled out redshirt freshman Jonathan Franklin as "another piece to the puzzle." Franklin offers lickety-split speed that Neuheisel said would give the Bruins "a little more diversity."

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see whether Knox can break into three deep this fall camp. I think the key again as it is for Franklin is getting comfortable with pass blocking schemes. I am hoping he can get some chances to show his stuff this coming season. He seemed to have a decent game during spring scrimmage and hopefully he can continue that momentum into this fall camp.

As for other guys on the roster, I think Chow will be using Moline lot more as a FB in pass catching situations. Given the off season surgery incoming freshman Dalton Hilliard had, I think he is more likely a redshirt candidate. Damien Thigpen is obviously an x-factor at this point. We have read a lot of stories about his speed this off-season from various writeups, but I am not sure right now whether he will break into the RB rotation. Guess it will not be a surprise if coaches decide to use him in special situation as a skat back (like FSU used Dexter Carter back in the day perhaps?) have him dart out of the backfield and turn and burn with quick catches.

Anyway, as you can see we certainly have the potential. But we have to keep our expectations somewhat in check given that none of these guys have had substantive experiences as college starters, and of of course those quesitons about our unproven quarterback and offensive line. Nevertheless, I am getting excited to find the answer on who will step up.

GO BRUINS.

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