UCLA building depth at running back

With a number of talented young players in the backfield mix now and more coming next season, the Bruins are counting on consistent production.

November 20, 2009|By Chris Foster
  • UCLA running back Milton Knox looks for some running room against California last month.
UCLA running back Milton Knox looks for some running room against California… (Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles…)

UCLA is working on a full-house backfield.

The Bruins have young legs in sophomore Derrick Coleman and freshmen Johnathan Franklin, Milton Knox and Damien Thigpen. They also received commitments this fall from Westlake Village Oaks Christian High's Malcolm Jones and Corona High's Jordon James.

"It's the big leagues," Franklin said. "They're always trying to find that guy, that Reggie Bush, that O.J. Simpson, to come in and take the position. You just have to come out here and work hard."

Franklin is in the process of trying to reestablish himself. He was clearly the Bruins' top tailback the first half of the season, and still leads the team with 532 yards rushing.

But problems holding on to the football have diminished his playing time. He has fumbled seven times this season, losing three.

"I don't care how big you are, how fast you are, whatever, you got to hold on to the ball," running backs coach Wayne Moses said. "Your team depends on that from you. He understands it. We've got to keep working toward that end."

Franklin, and the other tailbacks, will face increased competition in the future. Jones is ranked sixth and James seventh nationally at running back by

"You can't call it crowded. I call it competition," Knox said. "We're in a program that is trying to be the best right now. We've got two more guys coming in. They will compete just like everybody else. If you don't like competition, what are you doing here?"

Knox, Franklin and Coleman came into UCLA in the same class. The tailback group included Aundre Dean, who has since transferred to Texas Christian. Raymond Carter, a redshirt freshman last season, transferred to Colorado State.

Whether more attrition is coming remains to be seen, but Knox said, "It makes you watch your P's and Q's next, and you better be ready to play. You make one mistake, you could be gone."

Knox seems to have increased his value with his play in the Bruins' wildcat formation. He has 79 yards rushing the last two games.

"It shows that I'm not just a running back, I'm a football player," Knox said about running in the formation. "The wildcat shows all my dimensions as a runner and gets me on the field."

Moline produces

UCLA started the season without expecting much offensive production from the fullback position. Senior ChaneMoline has changed that in recent weeks.

In his last five rushing attempts, the Bruins have four touchdowns and a key first down that clinched a 24-23 victory over Washington. Moline has touched the ball 28 times this season -- 20 receptions, eight carries -- resulting in 12 first downs and five touchdowns.

"He's just a solid, good, old-fashioned football player," Moses said. "He brings a whole bunch of intangibles that nobody sees."

Moline is likely to receive more opportunities in the last two games.

Recruiting visits

Brandon Willis, a defensive tackle from Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes High, and Kip Smith, a kicker from Broomfield Legacy (Colo.), will make official visits to UCLA. Willis, who is 6 feet 4, 250 pounds, is ranked sixth at his position by Rivals, and has committed to Tennessee. Smith, who has committed to Minnesota, is ranked third.

Quick hits

Defensive tackle Jerzy Siewierski (foot) will play Saturday, Coach Rick Neuheisel said. . . . Either Danny Sullivan or Samson Szakacsy will start at quarterback for Arizona State, Coach Dennis Erickson said.

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