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UCLA needs big season from Drew and White, who will play together at times

April 29, 2004|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

One is lightning, the other thunder.

With running backs Maurice Drew and Manuel White in the backfield together, UCLA football coaches are hoping the Bruin offense will have an explosiveness it hasn't enjoyed since James Owens and Theotis Brown were a tandem more than 25 years ago.

"You'll see quite a bit of [No.'s] 21 and 29 out there together because that will give us a totally different dimension," UCLA running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said.

For a football program searching for an identity under second-year Coach Karl Dorrell, riding a one-two punch of Drew and White seems like a good place to start. The Bruins almost exclusively used a one-back set last season. And when there was a fullback, he never carried the ball.

At 5 feet 8, 200 pounds, Drew is quick and strong and has a knack for breaking tackles. He can turn -- and has -- seemingly no-gain runs into long downs.

"He plays at a different pace than everyone else," White said of Drew, who ran for 582 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman last season.

"He's a real intense guy who doesn't back down from anything."

White, a 6-2, 245-pound senior, has quick feet, catches the ball well and is a load to stop once he gets going.

The trick has been to keep him going.

After a promising season in 2001 as a redshirt freshman, White sat out nearly five full games because of a hamstring injury in 2002 and another five games last season because of a fractured right shoulder blade.

The Bruins were 6-2 with White in the lineup last season, 0-5 after he was sidelined.

They missed his running, blocking and, just as much, his leadership.

"Not only is he a big back who can run, he was voted captain as a junior last year," Bieniemy said. "His job is to also lead, not just running backs, but to lead this team."

White's value -- he has averaged 4.3 yards per carry and scored 11 touchdowns in his three seasons -- was evident this spring when UCLA coaches had him wear a red jersey during practice. The red means don't touch. Doctors do not want him involved in contact drills until his shoulder is completely healed.

So once contact drills start, White picks up a clipboard and becomes a player/coach.

"It's frustrating at times because I want to be out there so bad and have fun like everyone else," said White, who started eight games last season, rushing for 379 yards and three touchdowns. "I hear the stuff all the time about wearing the red ... Even the coaches have gotten in their jokes.

"But I'm staying focused on what I have to do. I can't learn the offense enough."

White, who has not experienced shoulder pain this spring, said that he was willing to move to fullback, where he started four games as a sophomore.

"I've missed too many games," said White, referring to the amount of injuries in his career, including an injury-filled junior season at Valencia High. "I'll block. That doesn't bother me. I just want to play.

"If we both can be on the field together, that would be tough to stop."

The Bruins, who will hold their final scrimmage of the spring Saturday at 11 a.m., have several other experienced players at skill positions, including quarterback Drew Olson, fullback Pat Norton and receivers Craig Bragg and Marcedes Lewis.

The key newcomer in the mix is offensive coordinator and line coach Tom Cable, formerly the head coach at Idaho.

"There's a whole feel for our offense now, which is something we did not have last season," Drew said.

"Coach Cable has everyone working together, starting with our O-line. I mean, I know how the fullback is going to block and how the line is going to adjust on every play.

"There's so much more communication within the offensive linemen, quarterbacks and running backs. As long as we continue to talk, we're going to be a hard offense to stop because that makes the game so much easier."

But when you're coming off a 6-7 season that ended with a five-game losing streak, and you play in the same city as co-national champion USC, it's understandable why the Bruin running backs are overlooked.

"SC has done a heck of a job and they deserve credit," Bieniemy said of the Trojans' development of running backs. "They have LenDale White, Hershel Dennis and Reggie Bush. Those guys made their mark last year. Now we have to go out and play at that level and even higher."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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A look at the 2003 statistics for UCLA running backs Maurice Drew and Manuel White:

*--* G Rushes Yards Yds/rush Yds/game TDs MAURICE DREW 13 135 582 4.3 44.8 5 MANUEL WHITE 7 96 379 3.9 54.1 3

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