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The Ground Attack ...

Now that the Pac-10 media day is done and the official media guide with updated depth chart is out, I think it is a pretty good time to wade into depth and look at certain parts of our team. Thought I start with a look at our running backs because the conventional wisdom right now is that because MJD bolted early UCLA's ground attack may suffer significant lapses this upcoming season. Well not so fast.

Let's take a look at the depth chart of our tailbacks and fullbacks via UCLA football's official 2006 media guide.

28 Chris Markey (5-11, 208, Jr*) 32 Michael Pitre (6-0, 235, Jr*)
36 Kahlil Bell (6-0, 235, So.) 45 Jimmy Stephens (6-2, 247, Jr*)
30 Derrick Williams (5-10, 214, Jr*) 43 Danny Nelson (6-1, 231, Sr.)
25 Craig Sheppard (6-1, 210, Fr.*^) 40 Ben Idemundia (6-0, 239, Jr.*^)
Ryen Carew(5-9, 197, Fr.*^) 31 Trevor Thiriot (6-0, 234, Fr*^)

* denotes red-shirt
^ denotes walk-on

Now let?s take a look at how these guys did last season. Of course MJD led all UCLA backs in rushing last season, but what is noteworthy is the amount of contributions Chris Markey and Kahlil Bell made to the rushing effort last season.

21 MJD 186 914 4.9 64 (TD) 13
28 Chris Markey 110 561 5.1 51 3
36 Kahlil Bell 52 310 6.0 27 3
30 Derrick Williams 5 32 6.4 11 0

To put Markey and Bell?s rushing stats in perspective compare the rushing stats from last year?s team to the rushing stats of the team from the 1992-1993 season.

Why am I bringing up the team stats from 1992-1993? Well I am not sure how many of you can recall that season. It was a season UCLA finished with a mediocre 6-5 record, in which it lost its starting QB in the first game of the season against Cal State Fullerton. UCLA trudged through rest of the season finishing with that memorable John Barnes win in the last game. However, going into the 1993-94, the conventional wisdom was that UCLA didn?t have much of a chance. UCLA was going in with Wayne Cook, who only had 13 pass attempts, but two years of experience being in Donahue?s program. UCLA also didn?t have much going for it in its running game. Here were the leading rushers from that 1992-1993 season.

Kevin Williams, Sr. 115 582 5.1 NA NA
K. Abdul-Jabbar (Sharman Shah), Fr. 48 124 2.6 NA NA

UCLA headed into the 1993-94 season with Abdul-Jabbar as it?s most experienced RB. So it did not really have the stable of experienced running backs like we have going into this season. Sure, UCLA was also helped by the emergence of true freshman stud Skip Hicks from Texas (who apparently was not highly recruited by Texas), who burst into the scene (a great game against Nebraska) rushing for 563 yards/100 attempts, however, he got injured.

The point is that the Bruins are not exactly hurting at RBs. Markey and Bell, backed up by Derrick Willliams, should be able to carry the load and put up more than decent rushing stats. CFN agrees with us:

Maurice Drew might not have been that big, but he was tough and had a nose for the end zone finding ways to sneak and slither his way in. Chris Markey, Kahlil Bell and Derrick Williams should form a dangerous rotation that will more than make up for Drew's lost yardage production, but they have to prove they can be reliable around the goal line. That shouldn't be a problem since all three are powerful runners. The real issue could be the home run; does UCLA have anyone who can be considered a threat to go long like Drew was able to? You could've torn off a 50-yard run against the Northwestern defense in the Sun Bowl. Markey is a good back who should shine with more work. He'll have a great player to work behind in FB Michael Pitre, who's due for more All-Pac 10 honors.
How good is Markey? Well if this clip (of Markey against San Diego State) is any indication, I think we can expect him to pull of some big runs this upcoming season:

I think it is reasonable to expect more of this kind of explosion behind a more experienced Pitre and talented offensive line. As that clip shows he does have an "incredible vision" for a runner.

As for Kahlil Bell he showed his potential last season albeit it was against Northwestern, a team which featured a defense as atrocious ours. Still Bell racked up pretty good game experience in last 5 games of the seasons (113 yds/25 carries/4.8 yards). He doesn't have a lot of speed but he is a big enough running back who can run north-south and pick decent chunks of real estate between the tackles.

We haven't seen much of Darrick Williams and the backup walk-ons to form a decent impression. As for the freshmen backs coming in - Christian Ramirez (6-2, 195) and Chane Moline (6-1, 240) - they have a lot of talent, however, it's not clear right now if they will be breaking into the top-3 of our current depth chart. Both of them are good candidates for red-shirting this season.

As for fullbacks Pitre is a bruiser. He reminds me of Tom "the tank" Rathman in many ways, the fullback who can block like a M'Fer but at the same time is a threat to catch passes and pick up key first downs. He caught 10 passes last year, 2 of which were for TDs. Expect him to get the majority of the reps. at the FB slot. Stephens should be a solid backup, and Danny Nelson was shifted over from the LBing corps.

As training camp is just about a week away, I am sure we are going to see lot of glowing reviews coming out of Spalding field about how yoked everyone looks and how everyone is running faster than Bo Jackson. We are not going to be carried away by reading those annual feel good pre-season posts. Still, I think it is safe to assume this group of running backs led by the talented combination of Markey of Bell is deep enough to fill the void of MJD. Sure, none of them have shown thegame changing abilities of MJD. But we didn't really need game changing running backs in that 1993-94 season to win 8 games and get to the Rose Bowl (beating SC).

Plus, another X-factor to consider in here is BO. Reports coming from UCLA practices during the last two years indicate that BO has better mobility (in addition to a much better arm) than Drew Olson. If BO can come in fired up and focused in this year's camp, pick up Svoboda's offense (which shouldn't be much different except for some wrinkles here and there), and get in rhythm, then one can expect a lot of opportunities for this offense to produce a boatload of points. It should be able to mix in effective play actions and draw plays to running backs and surprise the defenses, keeping them on their heels. We have enough weapons at our disposal to make our ground game make an effective component of a well diversified attack. Let's hope the coaches can make it happen and get us the 9 wins including the one over SC.