— One of UCLA’s biggest questions in the past two offseasons surrounded the running back position, which lost all-time leading rusher Johnathan Franklin after 2012.
Paul Perkins answered that in a big way as a redshirt sophomore, becoming the Pac-12’s leading rusher with 1,575 yards (121.15 per game). His presence, as well as that of an entirely intact offensive line, will certainly make it easier for whichever quarterback ends up replacing Brett Hundley this upcoming season.
But who’s looming behind him? After UCLA’s first spring practice in pads, Nate Starks looks like the clear-cut No. 2 running back. As a true freshman in 2014, the Colorado native was fourth on the team with 141 yards — behind Perkins, Hundley and senior Jordon James. He’s picked up where he left off and appears to be the team’s second-best runner now.
While head coach Jim Mora agreed that Starks currently has the inside track on the backup role, he insisted there is still “great competition there.” One player he said has “flashed” through three practices is Craig Lee, a speedy four-star recruit in 2013 who has yet to play a down for the Bruins.
— UCLA’s quarterback competition continues in its double-focus format, with two players getting the bulk of the reps in each session. On Saturday morning, Asiantii Woulard ran with the first team, while Jerry Neuheisel ran with the second team.
It wasn’t a particularly good showing for any quarterback, but Woulard had a noticeably rough day, missing a good number of throws and tossing numerous interceptions. There was an especially bad pick that safety Jaleel Wadood pulled down, one that he grabbed in the end zone without the ball going toward any clear intended receiver. (Wadood, by the way, is building on his strong freshman season and had another pick during practice.)
Jerry Neuheisel looked decent enough on short throws, but didn’t do much downfield besides one very nice touchdown pass to Alex Van Dyke. The ball went about 35 yards in the air down the sideline, and Van Dyke reached out to pull it in.
Rosen was a bit of a mixed bag in more limited action, but is still clearly the most talented quarterback on the roster. While he’s the only one who can make throws that really excite a viewer about his potential, he had his share of misses on Saturday too. One tipped ball got snatched away by fellow early enrollee Nathan Meadors. UCLA likely won’t name a starter by the end of spring camp, which might only work in Rosen’s favor. By the start of the season, he will have had about eight months on campus to digest the playbook and compete against players who have been in the program for years.
— Although right tackle Simon Goines sat out some of the latter portions of practice, Mora was very confident about the redshirt junior’s health. Goines has had a long history of leg injuries, and Mora said that he looks better running down the field than he has since his freshman season.
“Just bouncing,” Mora said. “He used to kind of drag his leg, and his knees were pointed in. He looked good. I just hope he continues to get better.”
Goines and Conor McDermott would present UCLA’s ideal bookends on the offensive line, but both have questionable durability issues too. McDermott used to be a 6-foot-9 beanstalk, and swelling up to nearly 300 pounds is likely hasn’t helped his shoulder problems.
— Redshirt freshman Jordan Lasley is a bit of a talker at receiver, and got in a near-scuffle with defensive back Johnny Johnson today. That quality might be good at his position, but he’ll need to keep that under control in real-game situations too.
— Former UCLA linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks were both in attendance at practice today.