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2019 UCLA Football Spring Training Preview: Bruins Finally Have a Run Game

After Joshua Kelley made his mark last year, the Bruins have a running back they can count on.

Joshua Kelley runs the ball during 2018 Spring Practice.
Joe Piechowski

The 2018 Bruins definitely saw more success in the run game than the previous season. In 2017, the UCLA Bruins had about 1,400 rushing yards as a team with Bolu Olorunfunmi leading with 542 yards. In 2018, the Bruins saw a more balanced offense with over 1,800 yards on the ground, but almost half as many yards in the air and half as many wins (not surprising with the departure of 2018 first round draft pick Josh Rosen). Joshua Kelley had an unexpected breakout year with 1,243 yards and our previous go-to guys, Soso Jamabo and Olorunfunmi, suffered season ending injuries that pushed Kelley to the front of the line.

Where will the UCLA run game be this spring?

Who’s Gone?

The Bruins have lost three running backs from last season Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi have graduated while Brandon Stephens has a year of eligibility left and so he announced a graduate transfer in January.

Jamabo and Olorunfunmi had a lot of fanfare when they arrived on the UCLA campus, but their impact on the run game definitely was not what Bruin fans were hoping for, even before head coach Chip Kelly was hired. In 2017, Olorunfunmi’s 542 yards and Jamabo’s 447 yards weren’t exactly the numbers this duo was projected to put up.

Then, in 2018, Olorunfunmi had a season total of only 85 yards and had seen action in six games when his season was cut short due to multiple concussions. Jamabo took the field for three games and had a total of twelve yards in those games, but also suffered a season-ending head injury in October. It was at this point that Kelley earned a shot as the number one candidate and Bruin fans learned that there was a new standout in the redshirt junior.

Stephens was one of the more recent players to announce his transfer and it wasn’t surprising after he only made two appearances on special teams and had no carries for the season.

Who’s New?

UCLA signed three running backs in the 2019 recruiting class. Keegan Jones, Sitiveni Kaufusi and Jahmon McClendon will all be freshmen in the Fall. However, Jones appears to be the only early enrollee, which means that he’s the only one who will be able to participate in Spring Training.

He was a two-star recruit coming out of Cleveland High School in Cleveland, Tennessee, and he was actually a grey shirt last year and technically part of the 2018 recruiting class, as he signed his National Letter of Intent about nine months ago. He has really flown under the radar and only had two other offers, one from Navy and one from Michigan. He was the Tennessee state track champion in the 200-meter, and won the state championship with a time of 21.10 seconds, more than a quarter second faster than the second place finisher. He runs a 4.4 40-yard dash and could be a speedy addition to the roster alongside Allen. At this point he is a bit of an unknown, but Chip Kelly recruits players that fit his system, and must have seen something special in this guy.

Who’s Back?

After what turned out to be pure speculation that Kelley would leave early for the 2019 NFL Draft, UCLA fans can breathe a sigh of relief because he is definitely coming back. After sitting out 2017 as a result of transferring from UC Davis to UCLA, Kelley put up video game numbers in 2018, including six games where he broke the 100-yard mark and a monster game against Southern Cal, racking up 289 yards for a grand total of 1,243 yards for the season. His place on the 2019 roster is unquestionable and he should have an impact on the run game going forward.

Kazmeir Allen and Martell Irby had almost identical numbers in 2018 (188 and 187 total yards, respectively) and showed promise here and there last year. After hearing UCLA signed Allen, the state 100-meter champion who had also broken the state touchdown record, many drooled at the prospect of having someone that fast and that productive on the roster. However, as a freshman, his production on the field just didn’t match his high school performance. He still needed to grow with the system and learn how to take his skill to the college level. He logged over 100 yards and a touchdown in game one, but didn’t do much after that. He will definitely be a player to watch when he gets the system down and continues to grow. Once he’s gone, he’s gone.

Irby was up and down all year with no more than 47 yards in a game, but he had more consistency than Allen over the course of the season. He showed steadiness and reliability that will definitely come in handy when Kelley needs a rest. Allen and Irby will definitely give the coaching staff some viable options at this position.

Here is the expected running backs roster for spring training:

2019 UCLA Football Spring Training Expected Running Backs Roster

Number Name Height Weight Year (as of Fall 2019)
Number Name Height Weight Year (as of Fall 2019)
15 Martell Irby 5'8" 200 Sophomore
19 Kazmeir Allen 5'8" 175 Sophomore
22 Kenroy Higgins II 6'0" 165 R-Freshman
27 Joshua Kelley 5'11" 204 R-Senior
28 Cole Kinder 6'0" 196 R-Sophomore
TBD Keegan Jones 5'9" 175 Freshman

Go Bruins!