UCLA spring camp position review: Running backs

UCLA running back Nate Starks during football practice at UCLA on April 20, 2015. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff)

UCLA running back Nate Starks during football practice at UCLA on April 20, 2015. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff)

UCLA found backfield stability last season in the form of Paul Perkins, who broke out and became the first Bruin to lead the conference in rushing since 2001. As long as he’s healthy, the running game should churn along smoothly.

But what will make UCLA’s next quarterback even happier is the depth behind Perkins. One of the intriguing performances this spring camp came from Nate Starks, who had a promising albeit limited role as a true freshman last season. Starks only had 31 carries for 141 yards and two touchdowns, but those stats don’t accurately show how impressive some of those runs were. He also had his best game when UCLA needed him most, in a 17-7 win over Arizona. Against the Wildcats, Starks had five carries for 41 yards, including a 21-yarder on 3rd-and-11 deep in UCLA territory. He was also the primary back on the Bruins’ first fourth-quarter drive.

Last month, UCLA leaned a little harder on him. Perkins is the clear No. 1 on the roster, but Starks got a healthy share of first-team reps through camp too — and for the most part, proved he deserved them. Continue reading

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UCLA spring camp notes: Nate Starks looks like No. 2 tailback

— 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. Continue reading

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UCLA spring camp notes: Josh Rosen gets more reps at QB

— UCLA head coach Jim Mora said earlier this week that each practice will focus on two quarterbacks at a time. Thursday’s session had Mike Fafaul working with the first-string offense, and Josh Rosen working with the second-string — which meant an offensive line that is currently using two walk-ons due to injuries.

Rosen had his share of freshman moments in his first extended bit of action, throwing an interception that linebacker Willie Green returned for a touchdown. His footwork looked good and he still clearly has the highest ceiling of all the quarterbacks, but there will be some growing pains along the way. Continue reading

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Paul Perkins on Las Vegas’ early shortlist of Heisman favorites

UCLA tailback Paul Perkins (24) runs during a 38-20 win over USC at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 22, 2014. Perkins finished the game with 93 yards and a touchdown. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

UCLA tailback Paul Perkins (24) runs during a 38-20 win over USC at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 22, 2014. Perkins finished the game with 93 yards and a touchdown.
(Keith Birmingham/Staff)

Despite becoming the Pac-12’s leading rusher, UCLA’s Paul Perkins settled for an all-conference honorable mention — shut out of the first and second teams in favor of four other tailbacks.

He might not stay under the radar much longer. Online sportsbook Bovada released some way-too-early Heisman Trophy odds this week, and the Bruins’ soon-to-be redshirt junior was given the fifth-best shot at college football’s preeminent award. The star tailback was listed with a 12-to-1 shot, tied with USC quarterback Cody Kessler and Georgia running back Nick Chubb.

The trio trailed Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott (6/1), Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott (7/1), LSU’s Leonard Fournette (7/1), and TCU’s Trevone Boykin (15/2).

Perkins figures to be the centerpiece of UCLA’s offense in 2015, as the Bruins to find a replacement for three-year starting quarterback Brett Hundley. The 5-foot-11, 198-pound back finished his first season as a starter with 1,575 yards, the second-highest single-season rushing total in school history.

See the full list of Heisman odds below, courtesy of Bovada: Continue reading

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