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2017 UCLA Football Spring Preview: Backs and Receivers Need to Improve

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After a poor 2017, the Bruin running backs and receivers look to put last season behind them as Spring Practice begins.

Bruin running back Soso Jamabo and the rest of the backs hope 2017 is better than 2016.
Joe Piechowski

We continue our Spring Football preview today with a look at the backs, receivers and tight ends.

Anyone who watched UCLA Football last season know how disappointing the offense proved be. While every offensive position group needs to improve, the position group with the most room for improvement has got to be the running backs. The performance of the receivers was frequently criticized last season for too many dropped balls.

Running Backs

Who’s Gone?

When it comes to the running backs, no one who saw any action last season graduated. In fact, that means the only one who’s gone from last season is Offensive Coordinator and Running Backs Coach Kennedy Polamalu. Personally, I’m of the mind that the issues the running backs had last season stemmed from a failure of the offensive line to create holes for the backs to run through. But, as the offensive coordinator, even the offensive line fell under KP’s purview and, so, a change was necessary.

Who’s Back?

From a personnel standpoint, the entire group of running backs returns from last season. It doesn’t really make sense to suggest a depth chart at this point because no one played well enough last season for anyone to say this guy heads into Spring Ball as the #1 back or that guy starts off as the #2 back. So, instead, here’s what the roster of backs looks like:

2017 UCLA Football: Running Backs

Number Name Position Height Weight Year
Number Name Position Height Weight Year
35 Ainuu Taua FB 5-11 295 R-Jr.
40 Cameron Griffin FB 6-3 240 R-Jr.
4 Bolu Olorunfunmi RB 5-10 225 Jr.
9 Soso Jamabo RB 6-3 216 Jr.
20 Brandon Stephens RB 6-1 205 So.
23 Nate Starks RB 5-11 212 Sr.
28 Khalil Muhammad RB 5-8 183 R-So.
30 Zachary Byrge RB 5-7 210 R-So.
32 Jalen Starks RB 6-1 255 So.

Who’s New?

There really isn’t much new with the unit. There are no incoming freshman, either now or in the Fall, because this year’s recruiting class didn’t include any running backs.

The only addition is the return of DeShaun Foster to UCLA as the team’s running backs coach. Foster previously worked with backs as a volunteer assistant coach before taking a coaching job at Texas Tech last season.

Receivers and Tight Ends

Who’s Gone?

The receivers and tight ends have lost a few guys to graduation. Ishmael Adams and Kenny Walker are the two receivers who have departed while Nate Iese and Jake Jones are the tight ends who have graduated.

Of course, it also matters that the receivers will have a new position coach this year as Eric Yarber, who had coached receivers since Jim Mora arrived in Westwood, has left the team for a similar job with the Los Angeles Rams.

Who’s Back?

Because the receivers and tight ends only lost a few guys, most of last year’s guys will be back. Like the running backs, it might not make sense to offer a depth chart here either because the receivers will have a new position coach this season. So, here’s the roster of tight ends and receivers:

2017 UCLA Football: Receivers and Tight Ends

Number Name Position Height Weight Year
Number Name Position Height Weight Year
45 Giovanni Gentosi TE 6-2 250 R-Jr.
81 Caleb Wilson TE 6-5 235 R-So.
85 Alex Rassool TE 6-3 225 R-Jr.
87 Jordan Wilson TE 6-4 250 So.
88 Austin Roberts TE 6-2 235 R-Jr.
2 Jordan Lasley WR 6-1 201 R-Jr.
6 Stephen Johnson WR 5-11 196 Jr.
7 Darren Andrews WR 5-10 190 R-Sr.
14 Theo Howard WR 6-0 180 So.
21 Mossi Johnson WR 6-0 190 Sr.
22 Demetric Felton WR 5-10 180 So.
24 Damian Alloway WR 5-9 175 So.
26 Alvoid Bennett WR 5-9 160 So.
27 Christian Pabico WR 6-0 201 R-Jr.
29 Brad Sochowski WR 5-10 192 R-Jr.
39 Ethan Fernea WR 5-11 187 So.
41 Trae Smith WR 6-3 200 Sr.
82 Eldridge Massington WR 6-2 212 R-Sr.
83 Alex Van Dyke WR 6-4 228 Sr.
86 Audie Omotosho WR 6-2 195 So.
89 Will McClure WR 5-9 175 Sr.

Of course, tight end coach Rip Scherer is the only offensive position coach returning this season which makes sense because the tight ends were a bright spot offensively last year.

Who’s New?

The departure of Iese should result in more playing time for Caleb Wilson, Austin Roberts and early enrollee Jimmy Jaggers. Jaggers was one of the top tight ends nationally in the 2017 recruiting class. How the time will be split will certainly depend on how each one plays in Spring.

Michigan transfer Devin Asiasi will likely also be on the field this Spring, but he will have to sit out this Fall as a result of his transfer. So, don’t expect much in the way of contributions from him until next year.

Finally, the addition of Jimmie Dougherty as receivers coach should pay off as the receivers look to cut the number of balls that get dropped.

Outlook

Considering how the backs performed last season, there is nowhere to go but up and having one of the best backs in UCLA history coaching the unit should certainly help. The same thing holds true for the receivers.

Meanwhile, look for the tight ends to build on their performance from last season.

Will all the changes on the offensive coaching staff result in a better overall offense in 2017? That’s the question on the mind of everyone as Spring Practice begins.

But, as we found out last season, it probably would be answered until games start getting played this Fall. In the meantime, the best we can hope for is to watch how the offense plays against the Bruin defense.


Go Bruins!