Freshman Nathan Starks could debut soon in UCLA backfield

After junior Steve Manfro tore his ACL on Tuesday, a spot opened up on UCLA’s running back depth chart. Nate Starks might be the most likely candidate to move up when the Bruins’ host Memphis this weekend.

“It’ll be fun to watch him play Saturday night,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said of the 5-11, 205-pound freshman. “A little bit bigger kid for us. Out of our norm. It’ll be fun to hand him the ball.”

Now out for the 2014 season, Manfro collected 107 rushing yards and 113 receiving yards in 2013. He had occupied the No. 3 spot behind senior Jordon James and sophomore Paul Perkins — who rushed for 80 yards against Virginia last Saturday and appears to have clinched a spot as the Bruins’ starter.

Starks hasn’t played yet this season, but was a four-star prospect who was rated the third-best 2014 recruit in Colorado. He is also the only tailback on the Bruins’ roster listed at more than 200 pounds.

“He’s really impressed me,” head coach Jim Mora said a week ago. “The first time we worked on Virginia (preparation) … all of a sudden, it was like, ‘Who are you? Where have you been?’ You’ve seen it out here in practice, when he’s doing service team stuff, working with the offense a little bit. He looks explosive. He looks more confident.”

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What did we learn about UCLA in San Bernardino?

Eddie Vanderdoes knows how to make an exit. (@puntingiswinning)

Eddie Vanderdoes knows how to make an exit. (@puntingiswinning)

UCLA escaped the Inland Empire relatively unscathed. Most of its starters are healthy, as are the team’s myriad rotation players. The most notable players sidelined — center Jake Brendel (MCL) and receiver Devin Lucien (head) — are both expected to return soon.

Without a major shakeup anywhere on the depth chart, what did the Bruins learn from their annual two-week training camp at Cal State San Bernardino?

The defense will survive its losses Continue reading

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UCLA notes: Quarterback Brett Hundley comments on O’Bannon ruling

» UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley talked about the offense’s progress so far into training camp. Active in the National College Players Association, the junior also commented on the recent ruling in O’Bannon v. NCAA — one that could dramatically change college athletics (2:30 mark in the video above).

Although the NCAA intends to appeal, judge Claudia Wilken ruled that student-athletes could be paid up to $5,000 per year.

“It’s nice to have the athletes coming after me to be able to live a little more comfortably than we all did,” Hundley said.

» Crossing the halfway point of training camp in San Bernardino, tensions between the Bruins rose a bit on Monday morning. Continue reading

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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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Four-star running back Nathan Starks commits to Bruins

UCLA’s backfield got a little deeper Saturday night, with four-star tailback Nathan Starks giving a verbal commitment to the Bruins.

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound back is rated No. 17 at his position by Rivals.com. If his destination holds until National Signing Day next month, the U.S. Army All-American will be the Bruins’ second running back recruit since Jim Mora arrived. Position coach Steve Broussard was let go late last year and replaced with former USC assistant Kennedy Polamalu.

The Bruins only return three full-time tailbacks with game experience: junior Jordon James, redshirt freshman Paul Perkins and sophomore Steve Manfro. Linebacker Myles Jack also rushed for seven touchdowns and 267 yards in his last five games. Freshman Craig Lee, a four-star signee in 2013, redshirted.

Starks transferred from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman after a violation of team rules, and played this past season at Colorado’s Cherry Creek High.

Five-star tailback Joe Mixon picked Oklahoma earlier today over UCLA, Cal and Wisconsin, though he could certainly change his mind again before faxing in his letter of intent on Feb. 5.

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