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2017 UCLA Football Fall Preview: Running Backs Have A Lot To Prove After Last Season

The performances of the running backs last season was forgettable. Hopefully, DeShaun Foster can get these guys back on track.

Virginia v UCLA Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

When it comes to the running backs, the good news is that all of UCLA’s running backs from last season are back. The bad news is that all of UCLA’s running backs from last season are back.

It was the kind of year, after all.

The unit entered Fall Camp last season with a lot of promise. Paul Perkins had graduated and was drafted by the New York Football Giants and it looked like the running backs, led by Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olurunfunmi, would pick up where Perk had left off.

Then, the season happened.

UCLA ran for fewer yards as a team than Perkins did as an individual the previous season. In 2015, as a team, the Bruins rushed for a net of 2,300 yards gained. In 2016, that number plummeted to just 1,011 yards for the year. It was that kind of year.

While some blamed the backs, most fans blamed the offensive line for not opening the holes for the backs to run through. Regardless, it was awful.

So, the Bruin backs enter Fall Camp with something to prove.

While Ainuu Taua has switched back to defense and Cameron Griffin has taken a medical retirement, all of the remaining backs are still here for this season.

That means that the backs are going to have to run better this year. Of course, the new running backs coach should help. Bruin great DeShaun Foster, who had previously been a graduate assistant, is back on staff to coach the backs.

Let’s take a look at this year’s running back roster.

2017 UCLA Football Running Backs Roster

No. Name Height Weight Year
No. Name Height Weight Year
1 Soso Jamabo 6-2 215 Jr.
4 Bolu Olorunfunmi 5-10 220 Jr.
20 Brandon Stephens 6-1 210 So.
23 Nate Starks 5-11 212 Sr.
28 Khalil Muhammad 5-7 185 R-So.
30 Zachary Byrge 5-7 210 R-So.
32 Jalen Starks 6-0 250 So.
40 Justin Rittman 6-1 245 R-Jr.

Of those, only Justin Rittman is listed on the roster as a fullback, but I expect Jalen Starks and Giovanni Gentosi to see some time there depending on the situation in those instances where the Bruins opt to bring in a fullback.

Projected Depth Chart

Let’s take a look at the running back depth chart.

Considering the kind of season all of the running backs had last year, the projected depth chart should look something like this:

2017 UCLA Football Projected Running Back Depth Chart

Running Back Fullback
Running Back Fullback
TBD Jalen Starks
TBD Justin Rittman
TBD Giovanni Gentosi

“Wait...the running back position 3-deep is all listed as to be determined?” you ask.

Yes, it is or, at least, it should be.

These backs really have something to prove after last year’s disaster. One of them needs to step up and claim the starting job.

Ultimately, I think it will end up looking something like this.

2017 UCLA Football Projected Post-Camp Running Back Depth Chart

Running Back Fullback
Running Back Fullback
Soso Jamabo Jalen Starks
Bolu Olurunfunmi Justin Rittman
Nate Starks Giovanni Gentosi

But, I won’t be surprised if Brandon Stephens makes a move to be one of the top three backs in the rotation either because, of all the backs who saw time last season, Stephens had the highest average yards per carry with 5.0. That was more than a full yard per carry ahead of Jamabo, Olurunfunmi and both Nate and Jalen Starks.

The bottom line here is that there really is no place to go but up for the running backs this year. To be sure, so much of their performance lies with the offensive line opening holes for them, but, ultimately, it falls to the backs to find the hole and get through it.

Having DeShaun Foster back teaching the running backs how to do that should go a long way towards improving the performance of the unit as a whole.

And, that’s it for Bruins Nation’s 2017 Fall Football Preview of the Bruin running backs. Do you see things differently? Maybe Nate Starks, Bolu or Stephens starts over Jamabo? Could it happen? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.


Go Bruins!!!