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UCLA FOOTBALL

Johnathan Franklin's instincts leading him to No.1 tailback spot

The jitterbugging redshirt freshman's scintillating performance at Saturday's scrimmage may have moved him ahead of Derrick Coleman on the depth chart.

August 25, 2009|Chris Foster

UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price was frustrated, hollering from the sidelines, "Get that little . . ." Freshman running back Damien Thigpen dipped and cut, squeezing through a small hole for a decent gain.

Offensive coordinator Norm Chow smiled at the thought.

"People can't load up in the box and expect to play man to man outside," Chow said. "They are going to have to play off coverage, which will give us a chance to run the ball."

In short, speed thrills, and the Bruins actually have some and are now exploring how to use it.

Tailback Johnathan Franklin, wide receiver Randall Carroll, Thigpen and receiver Morrell Presley all appear to have roles in the offense this season. It's a just-add-water solution, as Carroll, Thigpen and Presley were in high school a year ago. Even Franklin is a mere redshirt freshman. But all four possess something that can't be taught.

"Speed can create some big-play opportunities, and that was sorely missing in this offense last season," Coach Rick Neuheisel said.

Franklin is sharing the starting tailback spot with Derrick Coleman, as Christian Ramirez is questionable for the season opener. Franklin's strong training camp was highlighted by his 60-yard touchdown run in Saturday's scrimmage.

"A lot of guys find ways to get tackled," Neuheisel said. "He found a way to get out of there."

Carroll and Presley were expected to challenge for playing time, though Chow said "we're still trying to figure out what to do with [Presley]."

But it's Thigpen, 5 feet 8 and 170 pounds, who has burst -- quite literally -- onto the scene. He had a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 61-yard kickoff return in the scrimmage. Thigpen worked some with the first team Monday.

Chow said the Bruins can use Thigpen in different ways.

"We can hand him the ball, toss him the ball, try to get him on the corner," Chow said.

"We have some playmakers; we just have to find ways to use them."

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A punch line?

To no surprise, the starting offensive line will be the same one that was trotted out as the first unit when practice began: Xavier Su'a-Filo, Stanley Hasiak, Kai Maiava, Eddie Williams and Jeff Baca.

"To be successful, you have to have chemistry," Su'a-Filo said. "You can take one finger and bend it back. But if you put five fingers into a fist, you can't move it."

Hasiak seemed to take that literally. He got in a shoving match with defensive tackle David Carter and on the next play had to be separated from linebacker Reggie Carter.

Woods sighting

Former UCLA safety E.J. Woods, who was at the Bruins' afternoon practice, said he will play at Eastern Arizona College this season.

Woods was charged with four counts of sexual battery and two counts of battery last winter. He said he could not comment on the case.

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Quick hits

Korey and Kyle Bosworth flew to Oklahoma to be with their ill grandfather. . . . Defensive tackle Jerzy Siewierski (back) returned to contact drills. . . . Defensive end Keenan Graham, a freshman, suffered a broken jaw in the scrimmage and is expected to be out a month.

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chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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