Spring Review: Running Backs

Craig Lee flashed some electric speed, while Nate Iese may revive that fullback spot that has lain dormant since Noel Mazzone's arrival in Westwood...

The spring didn't bring a great deal of clarity to the running back position. Probably the most exciting development, actually, was Kennedy Polamalu's coaching, which should immediately help to improve the technical abilities of the running backs. His drills throughout practice were some of the more impressive running back drills we've seen, with each having an in-game purpose that made sense. For example, he rarely ran drills where running backs caught balls that were on target, instead trying to build in chaos situations, with the ball coming high, low, or behind, with contact coming at the same time. Just judging by one spring of practices, he demands a high level of concentration among his players, and ball security is of paramount importance.

Polamalu and Deshaun Foster spent much of their time in practice coaching up freshman Craig Lee, who redshirted this past year. Lee is the most intriguing of the tailbacks, with the kind of electric speed that none of the others possess. As we said prior to spring, his running ability isn't a real question. More in doubt has been his blocking, picking up the offense, and, to a lesser extent, his catching ability. He improved in all areas this spring, but there's still a good deal of improvement left for him to make. The next four months will be key for him in improving his physical strength as well as his technical savvy.

Jordon James, Steven Manfro, and Paul Perkins had the springs you'd likely expect of each. James was solid, if looking a bit slower than he has at his peak. He's been the best blocker of the bunch, though, and probably has a better understanding of the offense than any of the other backs. Perkins, we've heard, has drawn good reviews from the coaching staff, and had a good spring. He's not a speedster, but he has good body control and, particularly on swing passes, has a natural ability to make the first or second tackler miss. Manfro had his usual spring — solid runs punctuated by spectacular plays. The key for him is translating it to game situations where everyone else is also going 100% at all times.

Kennedy Polamalu.
Between those three, UCLA has three solid runners who can be relied upon to pick up the yardage given to them, and occasionally break a longer run in the right situation. The key, though, and one that seems to be recognized by the staff, will be developing Lee so that UCLA will have a real weapon with speed out of the backfield.

The fullback position, which has lain dormant for much of the Noel Mazzone-era at UCLA, was brought to life this spring, with Nate Iese looking like a potential force from that spot. We're not sure how traditional of a fullback he'll be, since the majority of the time he seemed to be lining up as he did last year in the Y spot, but he worked entirely with the running backs in drills, so we'll assume he'll be in on some blocking situations out of the backfield. Physically, he looks like a grown man, and, at 6'3, 240, with his athleticism and speed, he's clearly going to be tough for teams to bring down in the open field. We would not be shocked if he became an early focal point for the offense, since he showed good hands and an ability to get open through most of the spring.

Our Best-Guess Depth Chart for San Bernardino:

Running Back
Jordon James
Paul Perkins
Steven Manfro
Craig Lee
Nathan Starks

Fullback
Nate Iese
Tre Hale

Our Not-Wild, Not-Ill-Advised Guess For the Depth Chart for Virginia:

Running Back
Jordon James
Paul Perkins
Craig Lee
Steven Manfro
Nathan Starks

Fullback
Nate Iese
Tre Hale

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