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UCLA Football: 2012 Spring Preview of Bruin Running Backs

Remember me?  I was the National Player of the Year.
Remember me? I was the National Player of the Year.

We are continuing with our Bruins Nation 2012 spring football previews. We have had several installments so far which have looked at a program overview and coach Mora and coordinators, position coaches here andhere, and the defensive scheme. We have also looked at specific units on the field, including the defensive line, linebackers, special teams, defensive backs, and offensive line.

Today, we look at one of our strongest positions; running backs.

In addition to OC Noel Mazzone, Steve Broussard came to Westwood from Tempe. While he coached WR's at ASU, he brings a wealth of knowledge of Mazzone's offense as well personal experience to the position. Some of you may remember him from his Washington St. and NFL playing days.

Broussard's coaching experience should really lend itself towards teaching an imperative part of Mazzone's offense; pass catching. Over the past couple years in the pistol, our backs have not caught the ball much out of the backfield, and that is about to change. One of the staples of Mazzone's offense is the swing pass, both to running backs and the F, and the play is used essentially as an outside handoff. Last season, our backs tallied a total of 24 receptions, the same total receptions that ASU's starter, Cameron Marshall, had by himself. ASU interchanged RB's and WR's last season so it is difficult to determine how many times they threw it to the RB out of the backfield, but in 2010 RB's had 48 receptions.

As a team last year, ASU ran the ball 423 times for 1678 yards. The year before, they had 413 rushing attempts for 1671 yards. While the backs will undoubtedly see a load decrease from the 552 carries and 2497 yards they tallied last season, Mazzone does run the ball in his system. In fact, the base play that Mazzone builds his entire offense is the inside zone. At the end of the day, it's not any different than what Oregon does; stretch the defense horizontally to gash it inside.

We'll take a look at our depth chart and how our guys will likely fit into Mazzone's system after the jump.

While the depth chart is anything but set in stone, I don't see any way the backfield won't boil down to a combination of SR. Jonathon Franklin (5'10 193 lbs.) starting with JR. Malcolm Jones (6'0 227 lbs.) and SO. Jordon James (5'9 192 lbs.) as the primary back-ups. In addition to those three, SR. Dalton Hilliard (6'0 200 lbs.) and FR. Steven Manfro (5'10 191 lbs.) should provide sufficient depth to allow incoming freshmen Paul Perkins and Kenny Walker to redshirt.

Last season, Franklin carried the ball 166 times for 976 yards and 5 touchdowns, which is slightly less than in 2010, when he carried the ball 214 times for 1127 yards and 8 touchdowns. The decrease in carries actually led to higher production, both in his part and for the running game overall. Back-up Derrick Coleman rushed 152 times for 765 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, and his production and short yardage ability will have to be replaced. That said, Franklin has not solved his well chronicled fumbling woes, and ball control will be a top priority for Coach Broussard this Spring.

Ideally, Jones would slide right into Coleman's vacated slot. The former 5* recruit and National Player of the Year brings a lot of size and talent, but he has only carried the ball 80 times for 303 yards in his two seasons. Furthermore, James brings a lot of explosiveness to the spot and is a very good pass catcher. I personally believe that James should get a look at F, but it will interesting to see how the coaching staff finds ways to get Franklin, Jones, and James sufficient touches.

To be completely honest, I do not know what Hilliard moving to the offensive side of the ball does for the team. There is much more concern over the depth at the safety positions, and I can't picture Hilliard supplanting Jones, James, or Franklin for significant playing time. I do respect the coaching staff for adhering to Hilliard's request to move to the offensive side of the ball, but I sincerely hope that he and the staff have a heart to heart during the Spring about where he is needed.

Similarly, I'm not sure what playing incoming freshmen Paul Perkins and Kenny Walker at running back would accomplish. From what I gather from Perkins' highlight film, including this incredible run, Perkins did seem to run a similar scheme in high school and might be able to pick up the offense quickly. Walker looks pretty impressive on tape himself, and, like Perkins, he can play a few different positions. Despite their impressive skillsets, I doubt either one would take many touches away from Franklin, James, and/or Jones, and they are both redshirt candidates should they stick at running back.

In addition to the wealth of talented running backs, UCLA currently has four players listed at fullback on the roster. SR David Allen (6'2 224 lbs.), SO Luke Gane (6'1 247 lbs.), SO Phillip Ruhl (6'0 225 lbs.) and JR Alex Cusick (6'1 235 lbs.) all made the switch to fullback in the offseason. Quite frankly, how well these guys play fullback is entirely unknown. Any attempt to put these guys in a depth chart would be pure conjecture, as none of them have played fullback at UCLA. Furthermore, predicting how often Mazzone will utilise a fullback is unknown because he didn't do so at ASU the past two years. On short yardage situations, he generally went to the diamond formation pistol looks, which can utilize a couple big bodied blockers. There has been talk about Mazzone incorporating more pro-style concepts, but we'll have to wait until the Spring to see what that means.

That concludes the Spring preview of the running backs. Fire away with any additional thoughts and comments, and stay tuned for our next installment where we'll preview the receivers.