UCLA Football Spring Review: Running Backs

May 3 -- There might not yet be an obvious starter in the bunch, but a few guys stepped up this spring among the running backs...

Running Backs

Position MVP -- Bolu Olorunfunmi

We've thought for a while that Bolu Olorunfunmi is the all-around best running back and should be the primary ball carrier. He looked bigger and stronger this spring, and even a bit more explosive. He looked very good in that last touchdown run on Saturday. He has been nicked up at times during his two years at UCLA, so now, healthy, this could be the year for him to be the primary ball carrier. Obviously, though, we thought that last year, and he more or less split reps with Jamabo and Starks. We'll see if the changing of the guard on the coaching staff causes any sort of change in the playing time dynamics among this group. At the very least, judging based on last year, it seems apparent that the extreme rotation of backs did nothing good, so perhaps this will be the year where they settle on a bell cow.

Sotonye Jamabo gets an honorable mention here, as he looked much better this spring, showing more of a willingness to hit a hole with power than he ever has. He looks a bit quicker, having slimmed down to 215. UCLA still seems to favor him as the No. 1 back and we don't think he really held onto that spot this spring, so it will be interesting to see what the hierarchy is this fall. 

Best Younger Player -- Jalen Starks

If there was a breakout performance from the running backs this spring it was easily Jalen Starks. He delivered on his hype of being the punishing type of back, that breaks a few tackles and can move a pile, despite nursing an injured hand for a while. It will be very interesting to see when -- and if -- he does lose a little weight and get down to 250-ish, if he retains his power but improves his explosiveness. Even as it stands, he clearly has some value at his current size, whether as a goal line back or even a larger role. He moves really well for his size, and his power was enough to knock more than a few defenders on their butts this spring.

This competition was actually neck-and-neck though, as Brandon Stephens also showed some promise, and for a few practices looked like he might very well be the best back on the team. He shows great patience and the ability to detect where holes will open, which is such an unheralded but critical piece of playing the position. 

Player Who Most Needs To Step Up -- Nate Starks

Starks didn't have a bad spring, and looked a little better than he did at points last season, but it's still a relative mystery how he's gone from showing so much promise as a sophomore to then having a disappointing year as a junior and now looking like he might be third-string this season. UCLA is obviously in a situation where it desperately needs to spark its running game after such a disastrous 2016 season, and getting something out of Starks, the most experienced back on the team, could be a critical piece to the puzzle. If he can come into fall camp with a great mindset and really push Jamabo and Olorunfunmi (and, for that matter, Stephens and Starks) for the starting job, that would be a promising sign for the running game this year.


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