UCLA post-spring position outlook: Running backs

Spring football is done, and over three months still stand between us and the start of UCLA’s third season under Jim Mora — one that comes with national title aspirations and accompanying media glare. Over the next week, this blog will cover each of the Bruins’ position groups. Next up …

Running backs

Last season was the first since 2009 that every UCLA running back finished with fewer than 600 yards. That year, the Bruins finished 7-6 overall and eighth in the Pac-10.

The situations aren’t all that similar, of course. Quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker Myles Jack both helped buoy the running game through the final five games, combining for 584 of the team’s 1,007 yards and 12 of its 16 touchdowns. The Bruins have options on the ground, even disregarding its stable of running backs.

But those backs. Assuming injuries won’t concentrate on this unit as much as it did in 2013, there are enough bodies for at least a three- or four-man rotation through fall. Continue reading

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Bruins working to limit penalties

SAN BERNARDINO — In what Jim Mora felt was UCLA’s best physical practice yet, he told officials to be sticklers.

The Bruins, of course, were dead-last in the country in penalty yardage last year.

Although he was encouraged Wednesday morning by the team committing only one penalty during the snap through 144 plays of 11-on-11 scrimmage, Mora maintained that the Bruins still have a ways to go toward limiting flags.

“The thing that we’ve got to get better at, and it’s primarily the young guys was the pre-snap, the non-aggressive penalties,” the head coach said. “We had too many false starts. We were offsides once on a third-and-10. … We had one illegal substitution on defense.

“Those are things that are going to hold a team back, unless you address them.”

He added that the main culprits have been the younger players, who are understandably still adjusting to the pace of the college game: “As you move forward, you become much less tolerant of those things. Much less.”

FAIRBAIRN FINDING ROUTINE

After a solid freshman campaign, kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn has looked nearly automatic inside of 40 yards — and fairly reliable beyond that. His main focus this offseason was maintaining his confidence and building up his mental game, a process that mostly involved watching film, looking at pictures of different field goals and visualizing his kicks. Continue reading

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UCLA’s list of possible concussions swells to seven

Head cases have beset the Bruins this August.

Whether exacerbated by the San Bernardino heat or simply a bit of bad luck, seven UCLA players were sidelined Tuesday with concussion-like symptoms — taking a large chunk of the offensive line.

“I don’t know why we seem to have this rash of head injuries,” Mora said. “I’m not sure how serious all of them are, but we’re going to treat them all as if they’re very serious.”

The line was without redshirt sophomores Kevin McReynolds and Ben Wysocki, as well as true freshmen Alex Redmond, Poasi Moala and John Lopez. Redmond and Wysocki were competing at right guard, while Moala had taken the majority of second-team snaps at right tackle.

The attrition shuffled what was gradually becoming a more stable line. In one first-team iteration, All-American Xavier Su’a-Filo moved from guard to left tackle, while backup center Carl Hulick slid to left guard.

“It kind of affects everything you do,” Mora said. “It affects the development of the depth. It affects our ability to practice the way we’d like to practice. We just have to modify it.”

Added Su’a-Filo: “When we have the luxury of numbers, we can run, one, two, three groups. With these concussions, we’ve just got to take more reps. We’ve got to make do with what we have.”

Defensive Ian Taubler and running back Malcolm Jones are also out with concussion-like symptoms.

OTHER INJURIES

Freshman defensive end Kylie Fitts suffered full-body cramps. Mora said he drank enough water afterward to gain 8.5 pounds. Junior linebacker Eric Kendricks has missed all team activities in fall camp recovering from an ankle procedure. He is expected to play in the Aug. 31 season opener, and may return to practice next week. Continue reading

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Craig Lee reflects on tough path to UCLA


Craig Lee needed a few extra months to become academically eligible for UCLA, but the hard work has paid off. After waking up at 6 a.m. for six-hour test prep classes, the Redlands High tailback gained NCAA clearance last month.

He said Wednesday that the trouble started because he didn’t take classwork seriously enough early in high school. Back then, the eventual four-star recruit didn’t think ahead to college and did just enough to qualify for his high school team. Continue reading

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Fall camp preview: Running backs

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. Continue reading

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Four-star RB Craig Lee to sign Thursday

UPDATE: According to BruinSportsReport, Craig Lee has not yet been cleared by the NCAA. The letter he is signing Thursday is not an official NLI, just part of a ceremony at Redlands.

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Back on National Signing Day, Jim Mora noted that the 2013 class did not have a running back … yet.

That spot is finally about to be filled, as four-star tailback Craig Lee is set to sign a national letter of intent with UCLA a ceremonial letter on Thursday. The Redlands High star had held off signing earlier because he needed better test results to qualify, but has since scored high enough on the ACT. A NLI can be signed before an athlete becomes eligible.

From the Redlands Daily Facts’ Ed Castro:

“It’s been pretty stressful,” Lee said. “But I had to do it. I did this to myself. I should have done the work from the beginning but it was my fault. I can’t blame anyone but myself.” …

“It feels good,” Lee said. “It’s a big weight off my shoulders. I just feel real happy. I can relax now.”

Lee should be able to play immediately once admitted, and adds some depth to the Bruins’ backfield committee.

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Craig Lee scores qualifying ACT

Running back Craig Lee has received an ACT score that qualifies him to attend UCLA, according to Edward Lewis of BruinSportsReport. The four-star recruit probably won’t make too much of a dent in the Bruins’ backfield committee this upcoming season, but his arrival bodes well for the position’s future. The 6-foot, 188-pound back rushed for 20 touchdowns and over 1,700 yards as a senior, and was rated top-25 nationally at his position by Rivals.com.

And early UCLA commit, Lee had decided not to sign his letter of intent until qualifying test scores arrived.

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Weekly Q&A — 3/2/13 Answers

Q: Larry Scott has been very active since becoming commissioner, expanding the conference from ten to twelve, creating the Pac-12 Networks, and bringing a tremendous amount of new revenue to each member school. Any idea that the next big thing from Scott will be?

A: Most pressing is getting a DirecTV deal nailed down, but that’s not exactly a “big thing” so much as a necessary one. Scott has said consistently over the past few months that the conference isn’t looking to expand, so the Pac-12 probably won’t be leading the country into an era of 16-team superconferences. What he might look to do next is push for some significant reform in the NCAA, especially as the institution’s enforcement policies look more and more like a joke. Scott has been candid about the need for change in the past, something he reaffirmed again on Saturday.

Q: What is the latest news on RB Craig Lee commitment status? Also, we heard of the great recruiting class UCLA had this year but did not hear of any high school seniors that flipped their commitment. Were there any? Continue reading

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