Thursday practice notes: ‘Too much dancing’ among running backs

With the departure of all-time leading rusher Johnathan Franklin, UCLA’s tailback competition is wide open. Head coach Jim Mora has said all spring that he expects the Bruins to use a committee next season, but he isn’t happy with the progress so far

“There’s way too much dancing right now,” Mora said. “Our running backs are doing too much of this, like the keyboard of a piano. They need to freakin’ hit it and go. That’s something I’m disappointed in and they’re going to work hard on.”

Jordon James, Paul Perkins and Malcolm Jones have shared carries through camp, but no one has consistently stood out. Redshirt senior Damien Thigpen — third on the team last season with 849 all-purpose yards — is still recovering from a torn ACL, while Steve Manfro is rehabbing after shoulder surgery.

» Thursday’s practice was, Mora said emphatically, the best yet through the first six days of spring camp. However, the spurt of energy did spill over into some minor scuffles throughout the day. The two-hour session concluded with a massive group of players bumping and pushing each other.

“We’ve been banging on each other now for six days, and you can kind of expect that,” Mora said. “As long as it doesn’t get out of hand and it doesn’t turn into a brawl or a fight or somebody throwing haymakers, you’re going to get a little bit of that. That’s part of football.” Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Monday night practice notes: Anthony Jefferson shedding injury history

Maybe the wind helped as it whipped passes off course Monday night, making for the worst quarterback performance yet through UCLA’s spring practices. Or maybe this is how Anthony Jefferson was always meant to play.

The rising junior was once a four-star athlete in the class of 2010, a rangy 6-foot-1 specimen pegged by Rivals.com to have “blue chip” size, agility and ball skills. But a variety of ails set him back, from a broken foot his freshman year to back surgery in 2011.

Last season, his eight appearances resulted in just five tackles — four of which came at Washington State. On Monday, however, he looked like a solid rotation player, sticking close to receivers on several routes and using his long frame to break up passes.

“I think that finally, he’s feeling more healthy,” head coach Jim Mora said. “I think finally, AJ is getting back to what he once was physically. I think it’s showing in the way he plays, the confidence he plays with and the plays he’s making on the ball.” Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

UCLA football spring practice primer

Football’s back! As a reminder, here’s UCLA’s full spring practice schedule. All sessions are open to the public and will last approximately two hours.

Tues. Apr. 2 – 7 a.m.
Thu. Apr. 4 – 7 a.m.
Sat. Apr. 6 – 10:45 a.m.
Mon. Apr. 8 – 6 p.m.
Wed. Apr. 10 – 7 a.m.
Thu. Apr. 11 – 7 a.m.
Sat. Apr. 13 – 10:30 a.m.
Mon. Apr. 15 – 6 p.m.
Wed. Apr. 17 – 7 a.m.
Thu. Apr. 18 – 7 a.m.
Sat. Apr. 20 – 10:30 a.m.
Mon. Apr. 22 – 6 p.m.
Wed. Apr. 24 – 7 a.m.
Thu. Apr. 25 – 7 a.m.
Sat. Apr. 27 – 5 p.m. (Rose Bowl)

A quick primer after the jump. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Jones returning as walk-on, eligibility unclear

Running back Malcolm Jones, who left the Bruins after playing just one game as a junior in 2012, had second thoughts after exploring options to transfer.

After the holiday season, he approached head coach Jim Mora about returning to the team. Mora said he didn’t have a scholarship available for Jones, but would welcome him back as a walk-on.

“Sometimes you get derailed when you’re young,” Mora said. “I don’t think any of us wanted to hold the fact that he left the team against him. We all wanted to give him that second chance because of the type of kid he is and because we believe in someone earning a second chance.” Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Thigpen tears ACL, out for season

UCLA backup tailback and kick returner Damien Thigpen tore his ACL against USC, robbing the Bruins of the fastest player of their roster. Thigpen led the team with 17 plays of over 20 yards, and was used all over the field.

The junior had sat out UCLA’s win over Washington State with a sprained knee, but was thought to be fully healthy heading into the game against USC.

“We’ve got to move on,” said head coach Jim Mora. “Someone or a combination of people have to step in.”

The biggest hole he leaves is on special teams. Thigpen took 14 of UCLA’s 30 kick returns this year, amassing 376 yards with a long of 55. Devin Fuller returned four kickoffs for 56 yards on Saturday, while Roosevelt Davis returned one for 21 yards. Competition is still open moving forward, but no one on the roster has Thigpen’s gamebreaker potential.

His absence also opens up backfield touches behind tailback Johnathan Franklin, most of which will likely be absorbed by Jordon James. Thigpen had 50 carries to James’ 52 this year, but was averaging 5.2 yards per carry to James’ 3.8.

Mora has made a point of keeping Franklin fresh for the fourth quarter all season, but UCLA now has only two tailbacks with more than 16 carries on the season.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email