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UCLA Spring Football Preview: Running Backs and Fullbacks

Welcome to the penultimate part of our pre-spring Bruin football previews. This morning, it is time to take a look at the running backs and fullbacks.


I know that Football is not really at the front of our minds today, but Spring Ball starts up tomorrow, and with that the need to wrap up our pre-Spring ball look at the Bruin football team. Time to take a look at the running backs.

Bellerophon projected a depth chart a few weeks ago, but with some positional changes reflected on the recently updated roster, I am going to reset to a simple ordering based on graduating class and status on the team (scholarship players before walk-ons). Given the post-Johnathan Franklin battle for playing time that we will see unfold over the next few weeks and later in the summer, the depth chart at RB will likely get thrown for a loop at least once before the season opens.

Running Backs Fullbacks
Damien Thigpen (RS SR) Alek Cusick (RS SR)
Jordon James (RS JR) Tre' Hale (RS JR)
Steven Manfro (RS SO) Luke Gane (RS SO)
Paul Perkins (RS FR) Phillip Ruhl (RS SO)
Malcolm Jones (SR)
Melvin Emseibe (RS SO)
Ryan Davis (RS FR)

Damien Thigpen is recovering from the torn knee which he suffered during last season's Southern Cal game and will not participate in Spring camp. Assuming that he is healthy (always a concern with Damien) by the fall, I expect him to earn significant touches during the season, though Jordon James enters the spring with the first opportunity to be the lead man in the backfield.

Steven Manfro is back after a freshman season, which though not quite at the level that some scout team observers had hoped for, was pretty good. Particularly given the lack of expectations that folks had for him when he came to Westwood two years ago. But Paul Perkins is the player that I am really excited to keep track of throughout the spring. It can be dangerous to project much from a year of practices and scout team play, but he seems to be the best back for the longer term on the roster - even Bruce Feldman has written how people should keep an eye out for Paul this fall.

Between the end of last season and the coming start of Spring camp, there have been a couple of shake ups in the depth chart - Craig Lee's current inability to get past UCLA admissions, and the return of Malcolm Jones. Lee is eligible under the NCAA's rules: The issue is getting a high enough GPA/Test score to be admitted to UCLA. The fact that he is working hard to get those numbers high enough to come to Westwood rather than taking the easy way out by enrolling at one of the other schools that recruited him is a good sign for us, even if his impact on the field is delayed until 2014.

Yes, Malcolm Jones has returned to the team this spring as a walk-on, after leaving the team following the 2012 season opener. Malcolm may have the ability to earn back his scholarship over time, if warranted and if an extra one opens up. The issue of his eligibility is a big side note to his return - whether he enters 2013 as a true senior, or whether he can count the 2012 season as a redshirt season, giving him two more years of eligibility. The current roster lists Malcolm as a true senior; during his pre-spring presser, Coach Mora mentioned that he would try to get that year of eligibility back.

Mora also said the school would inquire with the NCAA about getting Jones another year of eligibility because he played so sparingly in that one game last season. He played only on the final drive of UCLA's 49-24 season-opening victory over Rice.

"I think there are some special circumstances there and hopefully they’ll take them into account but we haven’t started that process yet," Mora said.

There are no guarantees that the NCAA will play along, but there is some precedent for restoring a year of eligibility of a player who appeared only in the last moments of a season-opener, albeit in that case, it was due to a coaches' error. If Malcolm is granted that second remaining year of eligibility, the cost will likely be that he has to sit out of a pair of games, either in 2013 or 2014.

Fullbacks are not traditionally a part of Noel Mazzone's offense - as Bellerophon noted in his spring preview of the offense, David Allen's skill at the position led to his use on offense last year. Looking at the guys at that postion on the depth chart, their roles on the team really fall on special teams more than lining up anywhere near the quarterback this fall.

That concludes our look at the running backs for spring camp. Fire away with any additional thoughts or comments, and be sure to check back later this afternoon for a final pre-practice review of our quarterbacks.