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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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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UCLA running back Steve Manfro suffers serious knee injury

UPDATE: Steve Manfro suffered a torn ACL.
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UCLA may have lost junior running back Steve Manfro to a serious knee injury. The redshirt junior — who was third on the depth chart behind Paul Perkins and Jordon James — was carted off Spaulding Field on Tuesday afternoon.

“Sometimes, they don’t end up being as serious as they look, but that looked serious to me,” said head coach Jim Mora, adding that it changed the entire mood of practice. 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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Bruins honored on Pac-12 All-Academic teams

The Pac-12 announced its all-academic teams today, which you can view in full here. The 11 UCLA players mentioned are listed below.

First team
FB Phillip Ruhl, RS Jr., 3.37, Political Science
C Jake Brendel, RS So., 3.49, Economics (two-time mention)
QB Jerry Neuheisel, RS Fr., 3.56, undecided (special teams selection)

Second team
LB Aramide Olaniyan, RS Jr., 3.30, Political Science

Honorable mentions: FB Luke Gane, Rs. Jr.; LB Ryan Hofmeister, Rs. Jr.; LB Eric Kendricks, Rs. Jr.; LB Taylor Lagace, Rs. Fr.; LS Christopher Longo, Rs. So.; RB Steve Manfro, Rs. So.; RB Paul Perkins, Rs. Fr.

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