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: Myles Jack moves to inside linebacker

UCLA started spring camp today, and while the starting quarterback race is still in its very early stages, but here are some other developments from this morning session.

— Myles Jack will be working a lot at inside linebacker this spring, although head coach Jim Mora said the junior will get reps outside as well. It’s a significant move for the UCLA defense, but not one that’s overly surprising given Jack’s skill set.

For all his talents, the 6-foot-1 linebacker has never been the most dangerous pass rusher. On the other hand, he matches up well in coverage even against some top receivers, and is so versatile moving sideline to sideline. The stats bear this out: he only has one sack in two season, but has 18 pass breakups in that same period.

No other Pac-12 linebacker can match that statistic in that same span. Second place goes to USC’s Hayes Pullard, who had 14.

“It gets him to the middle of the field where we can utilize his speed and things like that,” Mora said of Jack’s move. “If there was a disadvantage — some of the things he does on the outside puts him in man-to-man coverage situations. He’s a little less involved with that when he’s in the middle of the defense.”

Deon Hollins and Aaron Wallace are playing outside now, while sophomore Kenny Young is next to Jack.

Jack was also responsible for one of the session’s most notable plays. During one-on-one drills, he got tangled up with receiver Mossi Johnson on a contested ball. Both came down with at least one hand wrapped around the pass, and essentially wrestled each other for 15-20 seconds before Jack came up with it.

— Other position changes: offensive lineman Colby Cyburt is switching to tight end; offensive guard NaJee Toran is moving to the defensive line; linebacker Dwight Williams is moving to safety.

— Randall Goforth is back in a non-contact red jersey after undergoing surgeries on both shoulders. He’s getting a waiver for 2014 — a season that only saw him play two games — and will be a redshirt junior this upcoming season. Continue reading

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VIDEO: Jim Mora talks about UCLA’s approach vs. Cal offense

UCLA head coach Jim Mora talked on Thursday about the keys to stopping Cal’s explosive offense, and also touched on the state of the Bruins’ offensive line: offensive tackle Simon Goines, who has yet to play this season after undergoing ankle surgery in August, had “a good week of practice”; offensive guard Alex Redmond remains a gametime decision with a sprained ankle.

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VIDEO: Jim Mora updates status of injured UCLA offensive linemen

Head coach Jim Mora said that center Jake Brendel (knee) is a gametime decision for UCLA’s home opener against Memphis this Saturday, but hinted that tackle Simon Goines (ankle) might be out for a while longer. He also talked about the maturation of reserve lineman Ben Wysocki, who is a new husband and father.

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UCLA notes: Defensive back Adarius Pickett switches to running back

» In what was a relatively quiet Saturday morning practice for UCLA, the team’s most notable development was a position change: cornerback Adarius Pickett switched to running back.

The true freshman enrolled early at UCLA as one of the country’s top defensive back prospects, rated eighth at his position nationally by Rivals.com and No. 126 overall. But given how deep the Bruin secondary has become over the last two years, there may be a better chance for him to make an impact on special teams and in the offensive backfield.

“I don’t know that he’d get in the rotation at defensive back,” head coach Jim Mora said. “Running back is still a spot where we’re looking for some depth. He seemed like the perfect guy. …

“We’re looking for reasons not to redshirt guys, rather than redshirt them.”

The move isn’t set in stone, but Mora said Pickett took the news well: “He certainly was open to it. His quote to Coach Meat last night was “I’ll leave here the starter” — not in an arrogant type of way, but a determined type of way. He’s excited about it.”

Of course, UCLA’s coaching staff has a good track record with moving players across the line of scrimmage. Anthony Barr turned into a top-ten NFL draft pick after moving from F-back to outside linebacker, and former running back Fabian Moreau looks like a potential pro at cornerback.

» Former starting tackle Simon Goines had surgery on Friday to remove bone spurs from his ankle, the latest in a series of leg injuries for the junior offensive lineman.

However, Mora wasn’t high on the idea of potentially redshirting Goines to get him fully healthy. The coach said he wants him to be mentally prepared to play by the the Bruins’ Sept. 13 game against Texas. Continue reading

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