UCLA running back Malcolm Jones breaks into the Oregon State secondary… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
There is no one in UCLA's spring practice who has more to prove than running back Malcolm Jones. And no one knows that more than Jones.
"I'm a changed man," Jones said. "I'm not the selfish and immature person that I was before. I'm in it for the team, no matter how much I play."
Jones walked away from UCLA, and his scholarship, last September. He spent the fall pondering where to transfer. At the end of deliberations, Jones came back to Westwood.
Now comes the hard work: making up for lost time.
The Bruins went semi-live Saturday, their first day of pads this spring. Jones fumbled in his first carry. His second carry resulted in an outburst of frustration. Jones flung a forearm at cornerback Librado Barocio after the whistle.
After that, Jones was a bull with the ball.
"There is inconsistency right now that we're working through," Coach Jim Mora said. "It's pad level more than anything. If he lowers his pads, gets behind his pads, he can run with power. When he stands up, he becomes an easy target."
So, Mora said, "What Malcolm needs is someone making him angry every day. When something gets in his craw a little bit, he runs angry, he becomes a different guy."
Jones is working on other personality traits. He was a highly decorated player at Westlake Village Oaks Christian High. Jones was named the Gatorade national player of the year as a senior.
"Getting that much attention as a 17- to 18-year old kid is a lot to take in," Jones said. "I got a big head a little bit. I didn't really show it, but inside I was more, 'I need to be playing, blah, blah, blah.' That made me more of a selfish player. I expected to get a lot of playing time."
He didn't. He backed up, while Johnathan Franklin became UCLA's all-time leading rusher. Jones quit after one game last fall.
"I didn't work hard like I did before," Jones said. "I was, like, 'Man, forget this.'"
Jones went home, forfeiting his scholarship. He flirted with transferring to San Diego State and watched UCLA have its most successful season since 2005, finishing 9-5.
"I realized I never should have left," said Jones, who had 328 yards rushing in two-plus seasons at UCLA. "This is where I belong. I couldn't tell you what it was that changed. One day I woke up and said, 'Man, you shouldn't have done that. Something's not right.'"
So Jones reached out to Mora about returning as a walk-on.
"We're all happy he's back," Mora said. "I don't think anyone lost any respect for him."
Jones has his work cut out for him.
Franklin is gone, but Jordon James has been impressive the first few days of spring practice. James had a handful of strong runs, including a 55-yard touchdown sprint, Saturday.
Jones is buried on the depth chart. But he sees his task as easy.
"I feel I have to work hard every day," he said.
Safety Dietrich Riley, who is returning from neck surgery, suffered a mild separated shoulder. Mora did not think it would derail Riley's comeback. Guard Alberto Cid left practice after suffering a hit to the head.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks and guard Simon Goines did not practice. Kendricks is out indefinitely with a sprained right ankle. Goines was held out as a precaution after some minor respiratory problem.
Assistant coach Eric Yarber tore a tendon in his right leg while demonstrating technique.