SAN BERNARDINO — When Malcolm Jones walks into the Rose Bowl in three weeks, his steps will mark the beginning of the end.
After a rash decision to transfer out after the 2012 season opener, the UCLA running back is officially starting his senior season. Since Jones only carried the ball three times last fall, he and the Bruins hoped he could waive that as a redshirt year. The NCAA denied the appeal.
“This will be his last season,” head coach Jim Mora said. “Let’s make the best out of it.”
Jones said in spring that he was preparing with the mindset that he only had one year left. A former Gatorade Player of the Year and Rivals.com’s No. 9 athlete prospect in 2010, he had decided the Bruins weren’t using him the right way. Over his first two seasons, Jones had just 303 yards on 80 carries.
He almost immediately regretted the decision, especially after watching UCLA’s resurgent season under Mora. When he asked to return, the coaches welcomed him back — as a walk-on.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound back had a decent spring considering the seven months he was away from the program. The staff’s main criticism of Jones was that he needed to lower his pads, run a little angrier. UCLA’s first four camp practices in San Bernardino have been without full pads, but the senior is following the advice.
“The key thing for Malcolm is to continue to make progress, stay consistent,” Mora said. “If he does that, that’s a weapon we’ll really like having.”
The senior tailback is still trying to make his mark on a crowded running back committee, but UCLA has scholarships available should he prove himself worthy to the coaches.
“I don’t want to reward anyone too quickly,” Mora said. “We have to see consistency of performance and attitude. But Malcolm seems to have set his jaw.”
» Mora was particularly upset at the defense on Saturday for committing seven offside penalties in 60 plays. He said he used officials during the practice to try and curb that. In 2012, UCLA was dead-last nationally with 90.9 penalty yards per game.
The Bruins also got testy with each other in their first two-a-day session, with a couple of skirmishes breaking out. Freshman linebacker Myles Jack and sophomore offensive guard Ben Wysocki were both ejected from practice.
“You always get concerned after three or four practices, where the energy’s going to go,” Mora said. “The energy stayed high. … Sometimes it gets ugly out there, but I think that’s good in the long run. As long as it’s not too often.”
» Of the four freshman defensive backs, Priest Willis is clearly the most ready to contribute. The 6-foot-2 cornerback still has growing pains, but looks like he could even start early in the season.
Freshman safety Tahaan Goodman has struggled so far in camp, and couldn’t chase down 220-pound running back Malcolm Jones on one play.
» Brett Hundley can more or less do whatever he wants on the field. He threaded a beautiful pass about 20 yards to Jordan Payton in the end zone. When it was called out of bounds, Hundley did the exact same thing on the next play. A young and inexperienced secondary is helping him a bit too.
» Jerry Neuheisel threw two awful interceptions in 11-on-11, and a couple more in other drills. The redshirt freshman has not had a good camp so far, though there still isn’t much separation between him, T.J. Millweard and Mike Fafaul. Asiantii Woulard looks like the best No. 2 behind Hundley.
» Freshman cornerback Johnny Johnson separated his shoulder, but Mora said it popped back in without much trouble. He will undergo further examination.
Defensive end Ian Taubler hit his head and left practice. Mora wasn’t sure if Taubler suffered a concussion.
Y-receiver/tight end Darius Bell participated fully in practice today with a red jersey. The senior had a cast protecting his broken hand, which he said should heal completely in a week.
Eddie Vanderdoes has been limited by a tight back, but will participate in UCLA’s full-pads evening session.