After watching Johnathan Franklin smash multiple school records last season, UCLA will need multiple bodies to fill the void at running back. No single set of feet can hope to match what Franklin did as an All-American and Doak Walker runner-up, rushing for 1,734 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The Bruins’ coaching staff has long said that the team will rely on a committee approach; if Franklin was “The Mayor,” then 2013 will be led by a city council. The test in San Bernardino will be to see if anyone has the potential to eventually emerge as a true No. 1 back.
Key returners: As a backup last season, Jordon James carried the ball 61 times for 215 yards — good for a pedestrian average of 3.5 yards per carry. Contrast that with Franklin’s 6.1 ypc, and his chances of becoming a star seem unlikely. The 5-foot-9, 193-pound junior flashes impressive runs in practice, but still hasn’t found a way to translate that into games.
Redshirt freshman Paul Perkins received a shout-out in Sports Illustrated from quarterback Brett Hundley, also his former Chandler High teammate: “I promise everybody that he’s going to be a monster.” He failed to distinguish himself from the pack through spring, but like many other backs, broke out his share of highlight moments.
If not for his torn ACL, Damien Thigpen would likely sit at the top of the depth chart. The do-it-all senior ranked third on the team last season with 849 all-purpose yards, but won’t return until October at the earliest. UCLA head coach Jim Mora said last week that Thigpen has not yet cut much on his surgically repaired knee.
Steve Manfro (shoulder) was held out of full contact during spring, and will likely split time between F-back and running back.
Key newcomers: Freshman Craig Lee may have the most upside of anyone in the committee. The Redlands grad has gained NCAA clearance and admission to UCLA and will report to fall camp, giving the Bruins a home-run threat who could eventually become an all-conference player. The four-star recruit rushed for 20 touchdowns and more than 1,700 yards as a high school senior; he’ll need to improve his pass-blocking if he wants to become an every-down back.
Malcolm Jones also returned to the team as a walk-on; the former Gatorade National Player of the Year had decided to transfer out after the 2012 season opener, frustrated by lack of reps. The 6-foot, 224-pound Oaks Christian product had to play catch-up after leaving football for several months, but looked as capable as any other back in spring practice. He has 83 career carries at UCLA for 313 yards and a touchdown.
Projected depth chart:
Jordon James, Jr., 5-9, 194
Paul Perkins, Fr., 5-10, 196
Craig Lee, Fr., 6-0, 180
Malcolm Jones, Sr., 6-0, 224
Steve Manfro, So., 5-9, 192
Damien Thigpen, Sr., 5-8, 185 (out until at least October)