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Prelude To 2010 Preseason Camp: UCLA Running Backs Depth Chart Analysis

From offensive line let's shift over to our running back position where the Bruins will have a decent mix of experience and young talent (with explosive potential) for the first time in many years. As UCLA football fan we haven't seen a consistently exciting rushing attack in years. Last time we saw a decent Bruin running game was few years ago when we were watching the individual exploits of MJD helping to mask the deficiencies of the dreaded Dorrellian offense.

Well this year, there is a chance of Bruins taking an exciting step forward in its running game if the returning players become more consistent, the new guys adjust to the college game, and of course the OL build on last year's progress. Yes, there are lot of IFs there. Still I think are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about this crew.

Let's get to the depth chart.  Here is how it looks heading into August camp (based on spring depth chart and current roster stats):

Johnathan Franklin (5-10, 198, So.**)(8) Jayson Allmond (6-0, 260, Fr.**)
Derrick Coleman (6-0, 231, Jr.)(1) Tobi Umodu (5-11, 240, Sr.**)
Damien Thigpen (5-8, 178, So.)
Malcolm Jones (6-0, 223, Fr.)
Jordon James (5-11, 191, Fr.)

** indicates redshirt season
() indicates number of games started

Bruins are returning three running backs from last season, two of whom started at least 1 game.  We did lose Milton Knox to transfer (who left for Utah Fresno State).  While we wish Knox good luck, we are fired up about our two blue chip recruits - Malcolm Jones and Jordon James - who will be looking to break into that rotation this Fall.

There is also another freshman running back Anthony Barr, who might be vying for a spot in this rotation, specifically in the role of an F-Back (the hybrid "H-Back) in the revolver formation, which is designed to get explosive athletes in open space. The completion at FB position is also going to be fairly wide open between Jayson Allmond and Tobi Umodu.  So the completion among all these guys should be fierce, setting up what hopefully will be an exciting camp. More thoughts on how it might all play out after the jump.

Let's start with the returning guys. The official site posted pretty good notes on Johnathan Franklin ("JetSki"), Derrick Coleman and Damien Thigpen as they went into spring camp. We excerpted those notes in our spring thoughts on the running back corps, which you can jog back to here.

Heading into this camp here are my bullets on our tailbacks:

  • Needed aggression from Coleman: We heard Derrick Coleman had a very impressive spring camp perhaps making him stand out a bit among returning starters. Apparently DC thrived in the new revolver formation, which was conducive to his north-south running style. While Coleman's spring was a productive one question remains whether he can be aggressive on a consistent basis on Saturdays. I have written about it before here on BN. When I think of Coleman, I keep thinking of the 2 goal-line plays during the first half of last year's Oregon game. For someone with the size of Coleman, it was startling to see him get knocked backward when he got hit at the LOS. I hope he has gotten stronger and developed a far more aggressive mindset this season. Someone with his size and frame IMO should always be falling forward for the extra yard upon impact collision at the LOS. If Coleman can bring that aggression in a consistent manner, it will bode well for our running game.

  • Jet Ski holding on to the ball: Speaking of consistency, Jet Ski will have to have a better year when it comes to fumbling issues. He had a pretty solid season last year as a red shirt frosh as he appeared in all 13 games, starting eight times. He led the Bruins in rushing (566 yards), including a pair of 100-yard games versus Kansas State (23 carries for 119) and California (11 carries for 101), and scored five touchdowns. His total of 566 yards rank as the sixth-best total ever by a Bruin freshman and his average of 43.54 rushing yards per game ranked 12th in the Pac-10. He certainly had his moments including this 74 yard TD run against the Bears:


    Photo Credit: Telemachus

    Yet he had some serious issues of holding on to the ball. Towards the end of the season, his fumbling issues led to coaches' heavy use of Chane Moline, who was always a reliable option in terms of holding on to the ball. JetSki has the talent to have even better season this year if he has addressed his fumbling issues from his first year. Hopefully during the off-season he has gotten better both physically and mentally, as I think he will have a chance to contribute as a reliable option out of the backfield.

  • Catching the ball out of the backfield: Jet Ski's fumbling issue brings me to another curiosity heading into this Fall Camp. I think it will be important to observe how our RBs are catching the ball out of the backfield. As a group our TBs and FBs only caught 50 passes out of the backfield this past season. More than half of that came from senior TB/FB Chane Moline who caught 29 passes for 247 yards and 1 TD. The output from rest of the guys were fairly negligible. Norm Chow has always made a living out of featuring multi dimensional RBs, who have done damage by catching the ball out of the backfield. We are going to need better production and effort from Damien Thigpen (who will hopefully get opportunity to take advantage of his speed in open spaces), Jet Ski, and incoming freshman in terms of doing some damage after catching the ball from the backfield. If our RBs cannot gain yards this way, it will be hard to establish a well balanced and unpredictable offense that will keep the opposing defenses on their heels.

  • F-Back: Perhaps using our running backs at the F-back slot - a "modified" half-back position in a revolver formation - is the way we get the ball to our athletic RBs via air, and setting them loose with advantageous matchups. If our offense is working the way it is suppose to click in a revolver formation, it will be fun to see guys like Damien Thigpen, Anthony Barr and perhaps even Christian Ramirez getting matched up against defensive players with speed and athletic advantage. It sounds pretty good on paper and it appeared to have give results at times during spring practices. Whether we can do it on a consistent basis this Fall and then translate it into game day success will be something we have to watch.

  • The Three Freshmen: There is not much we can add to gin up the excitement level any further around the three super freshmen: Malcolm Jones, Jordon James and Anthony Barr. We don't have to go into detail re. the recruiting awards and their All American honors. Jones already emerged as one of the leaders among this year's class as he helped out the coaching staff with the recruiting efforts on fellow OC team-mate Cassius Marsh. At his size - 6-0, 223 - MJ will have the chance to emerge as one of the regulars in UCLA's RB rotation. If you want a refresher on high he looked against high school defenses here is a refresher:

    In terms of size both Jones and Barr, as noted by Boston, will be two of the biggest RBs in the history of Bruin football. And Barr can move too:

    Meantime, Jordon James has explosive game speed. If he can adjust to the pace of the college game fast, there is a good chance, he will see action right away during his first year in UCLA. BTW the YouTube clips are fun to watch but keep in mind about keeping our expectations check based on high school highlights (lot of previous UCLA RBs coming out of high school also looked good on YT). Hopefully these guys will stay patient, pay intense attention to their coaches to get ready for the season this August.

At the FB position the competition is going to be between  redshirt senior Tobi Umodu (5-11, 243) and freshman Jayson Allmond (6-0, 256). Umodu used to be a LB before making the switch little more than couple years ago. Allmond is supposed to be a hard-nosed tank of a FB, who made pretty decent impression with the scout team last season. I think Allmond given his natural talent and size will have the edge here, but we will see.  As we have mentioned numerous times before, it would be interesting to use DC at the  FB spot. He certainly has the size and frame for being  a solid blocker. If he can get him to play this spot as a hybrid FB/RB the same way coaches used Moline, it will give Chow another option to pack in more athleticism on the field at the same time.

So as you can see the Bruins will have no shortage of talent when it comes to the RB position this season. They will also have some experience from guys like Jet Ski, Coleman, and Thigpen who had meaningful opportunities to contribute and did step up at times during last two years. The depth chart of our running back finally resembles the one belonging to a major D-1 program. Hopefully this is the year these guys will take another step up to reestablish the legacies of previous great Bruin RBs.

This will be an important year for this unit to step up and provide the team with a viable running attack on a consistent basis. If we can get a solid ground game going, it will help out Kevin Prince and his receivers in opening up the offense with a balanced attack.

All of this will make the camp this August pretty exciting. It will be fun to watch these guys going at it and competing against each other. We will be looking to hear feedback from practice goers on how these guys are performing through the daily grind.