Spring Review: Running Backs

Apr. 29 -- The top two is completely settled, but there will be a competition for the remaining carries...

Running Backs Review

Top Performer: Paul Perkins

Perkins elevated his game this spring, getting just a little bit better in almost aspect of his play. Probably most significant for his prospects this fall is that he gained a little bit of weight, which should help him deal with the enormous load he's going to have to carry this season. Fresh off a season where he led the Pac-12 in rushing, we saw enough of him this spring to think that he could replicate or even surpass his performance from last season.

Most Improved: Nate Starks

If Perkins doesn't replicate his numbers from last year, though, much of that could be due to the surge from Starks, who changed his body in the offseason and looked much more explosive this spring. Starks gives UCLA a true No. 2 running back behind Perkins, and a real heir apparent to Perkins as the starting running back. He's slimmer through his upper body and more powerful in his legs, which has combined to make him quicker while also maintaining his strength. Running low consistently is still an area to work on, but there's a lot to like about Starks heading into the season.

Position Overview:

Perkins and Starks are very likely going to get the vast majority of the carries this season, but there is some question about how the rest of the carries will be divided. Steven Manfro is still recovering from ACL surgery, and was held out of most full-contact portions of practice this spring. He's expected to be fully available this fall, and if that's the case, he'll have a chance to factor into the competition for the remaining carries.

Nate Starks.
Another option is Craig Lee, the redshirt sophomore running back who has been a bit of an enigma through his first two years at UCLA. He's arguably the most explosive player on the team, with great speed and quickness, but he's been weak so far in the secondary tools necesssary to play running back in UCLA's system. His vision isn't great, and he's struggled as a blocker. His hands seemed improved this spring, though, and he got plenty of work, so the hope is that UCLA can find a role for him to see what his speed can do on the field this year.

Sotonye Jamabo is probably the next most likely to get some significant carries this year, assuming of course that his legal issues get settled and there isn't a significant suspension. It's difficult to project, though, since we're still not totally certain how UCLA will use him (he could be anywhere from a pure running back to a pure slot receiver, with varying degrees of both in between). Bolu Olorunfunmi will be another option, but we can't imagine a scenario where he'll be able to break into the top three this year, barring injury. Roosevelt Davis had a nice spring, and has great quickness, but his size prevents him from being much more than a junk-time back.

And we should also mention the fullback position. Nate Iese showed again this spring that he's among the most impressive athletes on the team, with great athleticism for his size, very good hands, and excellent body control. He looked, again, like he could be a real weapon in this offense, and toward the end of spring, UCLA moved him into more tight end-like situations. With Chris Clark coming in this fall, and with UCLA carving out a real tight end position to greet him, it might be worthwhile to see what Iese could do in that position as well.

Projected Fall Depth Chart

Running Back
Paul Perkins
Nate Starks
Steven Manfro
Sotonye Jamabo
Craig Lee
Bolu Olorunfunmi
Roosevelt Davis

Fullback
Nate Iese
Taylor Lagace

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