We sat down with running back coach Wayne Moses recently.
If a guy is at this level, you know that he can run. But there's a lot that goes into playing running back well than just carrying the football. Break that down, those elements … the blocking, the blitz pickups. What are you looking for when trying to identify that feature back, or even a playing rotation?
‘'Well, what I try to look for in a running back that's going to be able to help UCLA be successful, I'm looking for a guy that's either on his way to being a complete back, or he is a complete back. And, obviously, there are not that many coming out of high school that's got it all. And by that I mean I'm looking for a guy that can run, a guy that can block and a guy that can catch because, inevitably, you've got to be able to do them all to be a good football player. Because, if that guy doesn't carry all of those particular traits, then you have to start substituting guys … this guy goes in on third down, this guy goes in on first down, but he's not an every down kind of back.
‘'There are always certain situations, but for me in particular, I'm not a real fan of substituting guys in to do particular things. When I go out and try to recruit backs one of the things that I say is, ‘Hey, you're a great runner, you're this and that, but you know what, I think I can help you become a complete back. You're not a great receiver and you're not a great blocker, but I think if your attitude is right and you want to become a complete back, I think I can help you do that.'
‘'That's one of the things, when I go out and talk to them I try to sell them on. You've got to get guys in position to be the best they can be and in a lot of cases, like I said, they're not all the way there yet and they need to find somebody who can help them get there. Otherwise, they wouldn't need a coach. If you can't help a guy get better then, like I tell them, what do you need me for?
‘'But, you know, the instincts and all of those things, you see that. A guy, you know, he sees it and he feels it. You ask, ‘How did he see that and why did he make that cut?' You see all that kind of stuff. But in high school you see guys coming out and you rarely ever see the blocking, the pass receiving and all of the other things that makes a guy a complete running back.''
You have them in that order – running, obviously, then blocking and pass receiving?
‘'Yeah, I mean, I would. That's how you spot a guy. That's how he comes to your attention. You don't go out and recruit a guy because, hey, he's a great blocker. That's great, but … hopefully you can preface that by saying he's a great runner, because that's what piques your interest in a guy. He's doing things that are hard to coach or you can't coach … guys making cuts and jump cutting and all the speed and the, ‘How did he know that guy was behind him to know to cut to the left?' Those kinds of things. That's how you go and get attracted to a guy, by making yards, because, you know, it's running back. That's the title. You're a running back. I've seen a lot of running backs that make offensive lines look good - you don't have to block everybody and you don't have to hold blocks very long sometimes when you get a real outstanding talent. But, you know, no question, it's the running that's the hook that gets everybody to go and look at a guy.
‘'Then, like I said, if you can't catch or have a hard time catching, doesn't have any skills that way, or has a hard time blocking, a lot of times that's just … he doesn't do it, hasn't been asked to do it. So, that's where you've got to get in and say, ‘Hey, those other two components of your game are just as important as the primary component, and you've got to have the attitude that you're going to being them in line.''
It's pretty seldom, I would think, that the complete back is coming out of high school, particularly with the blocking part of the equation, the pickups and things like that …
‘'Pass protection, I mean, it's a learned skill. You know, you don't have to do it. But there's so much technique involved in that. That is the hardest thing to teach the high school phenom or the great back that you recruited, because he never had to do that in high school. I mean, he didn't have to protect because most of the time he had the ball in his arms and if you're a star in high school nobody really got on him about blocking or something like that. But every once in a while you'll find that's not the case.
‘'But in most cases, that is the hardest thing to translate to a young back coming in, the art of pass protection. Most of the time, the (pass rusher) is going to be bigger than him. For him to get up and kind of keep that guy off the quarterback, you have to know what you're doing. That technique and fundamental is probably the hardest to get across.''
There is an art to it, like you said ...
‘'Right. I mean, they spend more time practicing pass rushing than you actually spend on pass protection. That's why your technique has got to be flawless. They work a lot more on their technique to get by you than you do to stop them, just by the nature of that they do and what we do.
‘'We have other things, so our time is limited. Whenever we can we have to find time to do that - stealing some time before or after practice, because there's very little time in practice to do that. You have to run your routes, you have to work on your ball-handling, you have to get all of the contextual things in football, which takes a lot more time these days.
‘'You have to steal some time to do that, but as long as a guy is willing and his attitude is good, he can learn how to do that and once you get that technique down you can block anybody. The technique is something that once they get it, they have it and it serves them well.''
That's probably the one that is lost on a lot of people. I mean, you can see the running skills, the receiving skills … One player might be ahead of the other in some areas, but …
‘'When you have one of those fullback-type guys, and that's how they got there, then that's a different deal. But even the star running back, the guy has to pick up linebackers every so often and he has to block a linebacker coming off the edge every so often and you don't want to be a liability. You say, ‘There's a higher probability that they're going to bring a linebacker now, so you go out and you go in.' I don't like that …''
Well, at some point that shows up, too … defenses are going to see that, scheme against it …
‘'Yeah, if you're a good runner we want that threat on the field all the time. We don't want to put in a guy, because now everybody knows … when this guy comes in, hey, we can put this coverage up over there, because this guy, he can't run, they're not going to run it with this guy.
‘'With some situations, you know, 3rd-and-4 or 3rd-and-5, you might want to run for it if you have a good back. But if you have to take him out and put another guy in, the pass protection guy, then everybody in the stadium knows and then we'll see all the little line game stunts from the defense and probably a blitz and probably all kinds of man coverages and all that kind of stuff.''
OK, so going into the spring, who are your fullbacks and who are your running backs?
‘'Well, the fullback thing right now, the two scholarship guys are Tobi (Umodu) and (Jayson) Allmond and then we moved (Demetrius) Papadakis over. He's one of the walk-on guys we want to get a look at. And then we added two more walk-ons over there, one who was a linebacker last year in (Robert) Franco, and (Andy) Magee. Those are going to be the fullbacks and we'll kind of see how that sorts out.
‘'Obviously we have a lot of work to do with those two and, in particular, what we have to work on with Jonathan. So we have issues, but his attitude has been fantastic in terms of dealing with the problem. A lot of times when guys have problems they look at everybody and everything else but themselves. This guy, he's done nothing but focus on trying to get himself better. He didn't exude any sort of attitude - ‘You know, it's not my fault …' He took ownership of his deal and said, ‘Coach, I'm going to try to fix it' so I'm excited to get him back out on that field because he's a good player.
‘'It's just confidence. He had a rough patch there and we have to get through it. But he dealt with the situation about as well as anybody that I've seen. He's worked on it. Every time I see him he has a football with him, so he's dealing with it.
‘'Derrick, he's a talent in himself. He's a 230-pound guy that is big and fast, but when I talked to him, I said, ‘Derrick, you have got to be more of a presence out there. You know, you're in the game and you're that big and that fast and nobody knows you're out there. You've got to exert your will out there and be physical and run like a 230-pound guy.' So we have some things that we've got to get this spring.
‘'And then we also have Damien Thigpen and Milton Knox who are also going to be in the mix and we'll see. They both played last year and we'll see where those guys are. But those will be our primary four guys that are going to get rolling in there and we'll see where we go.
‘'And, as you well know, we have some freshmen coming in. But until they actually get here and we see them – they won't be here this spring. But from a spring standpoint those are going to be the guys that are going to get the heavy look-sees and we'll shake it out and find the best guys.
‘'The competition is going to be keen. It's going to be great competition and we'll see if we can find a guy that can make us have some good Saturdays.''
Seeing Jonathan recently, the gains he's made physically, it doesn't look like anybody is going to be ripping the ball out, like they did a few times last year …
‘'Like I said, he has assessed the situation, understood what the problems were and I'd be surprised if we didn't see a new resurgent guy. You know, after it started happening it got a little subconscious in his mind and then the next thing you know you start compensating so much that the next thing you know, the ball is out. You know, there isn't anybody that felt worse than him, because he let his teammates down and that's not something that he wants to do. If you give him the ball and his teammates trust him, that he's the guy that has the ball, then he wants to take care of it.
‘'I just think that, through the offseason, with him understanding the issues and dealing with the issues as a mature guy, because, you know, some people refuse to take responsibility for their actions. And he did not do that. I was awful proud of the way he has dealt with the situation and I think he's worked to rectify it. We've talked about it and I feel good about it. Now we just have to go apply it. We have to go apply it and make it happen, get back to when he was doing a lot of good things for us early last year.''
Physically he looks like a different guy and if he gets his problems squared away … I mean, how good can this guy be? Where do you see him?
‘'He's got great tools. He just kind of came on the scene in camp last year, you know what I mean, and kind if separated himself from the rest of the guys because he went in and made some plays.
‘'When I was here in the early 90s, we used to have a 100-yard guy a week. We always had a 100-yard guy. But since I returned here, two years, we've had two individual 100-yard rushing games and he's got them both, which goes to show you we've been struggling a little bit running the ball.
‘'He was a sight for sore eyes there, with a 70-plus yard run there against Cal … he has got some tools, we just have to fix that problem. There wasn't an issue talent-wise, but we all saw what the issues were and like I said, I think he's dealt with it and I'm nothing but positive that he's going to be the guy that we all think he can be. He's tough. He's got good speed. He can accelerate. He's got good instincts. He's got everything that a fella needs to be a good back in this league and he's had a good offseason in the weight room, which is good. Now it's just a matter of applying all that on the field.''
With Coleman, what do you think has kept him from being more of a presence? I don't think you can say he's tentative, but he also … he isn't letting everything go.
‘'You know, I don't know. I've talked to him. I mean, when he first got here as a freshman I just thought … I said, ‘Wow, this guy is really going to be something because he's big, he's fast, he's not all that elusive but he's got enough for one guy' and for whatever reason it just hasn't happened like I envisioned. I told him, 'You should be better than you actually are.' So that's a challenge to the both of us because somewhere along the line something is not happening. Either it's me or it's you, because there's some talent there. Between the two of us, we have to figure out how to make this happen.
‘'To me, you can't go in there and have nobody know that you played today, you know? Not at that size and that speed. You should be wreaking and creating some havoc over on the defense. You should be making yards, you should be finishing runs, you should be falling forward, you should be breaking tackles … all the things that 230-pound fast guys do. And he has enough of the other stuff – I mean, he has good instincts, he knows how to do all that stuff.
‘'At this point, he just hasn't lived up to either, his or my expectations. Hopefully this spring he's going to come back and take his game to a new level based on all the gifts that he's got because like I said, I mean, you've seen him. He looks like you should look, you know? And like I said, you look at all his times and weights and what he lifts and how fast he runs and all that and he should be able to impose his will on defenses more than what he actually does.
‘'I know he's young and all, but this is going on his third year. He might be young age-wise, but he's been playing for two years. Hopefully everything will start to click and come together and he jumps out there and will be the guy that we think he can be.''
You think it's kind of, not a maturity, but growing into his football skills? Because, he is up there …
‘'Right. He is up there. And then like I told him, another thing, l said, ‘You know Derrick, football has got to be something that you study at also, just like you're in class. You need to take up your football I.Q. a little bit, and I think that will help you be able to put your best effort out there on the field.'
‘'You know, when he leaves football, I don't know if he watches football or studies football or knows some of the moves that defenses make so he can anticipate some things. I don't know if he's really into that. We've talked about it and that's something that he has to improve on. He's got to become much more of a student of the game, because you're big in high school and all that and you can get away with that. But now you've got bigger guys, faster guys coming up.
‘'You have your skill level, but now you have to put your mindset in it, too. You have to become a little bit of a football player now, more of a football player, because those guys over there, they're on scholarship too. Like I said, he understood that and he agreed so we'll see what transpires when he comes back here in the spring. It will be a couple of weeks and here we go.''
With Milton, early in the year he was trying to get the extra movement out of his running style and just plant and go and did a pretty good job with it. But there were times where he sort of reverted back, sort of to what he used to do. Is that the main thing with him?
‘'Milt, obviously he's a good running back, got a lot of talent. But, just as you mentioned, one of the things early on is being able to attack the line of scrimmage. He was looking for a lot of the home run type of stuff rather than going and getting his five yards, which is great … you know, 2nd-and-5, hey, that's great. We eliminated some of that, got more attack and go get it, and I think between his first year and second year he really improved on that.
‘'But, as you mentioned, certain points there, there's a little of reverting back, but I think he still knows exactly what we want. It will be interesting to see how he comes out this spring because he's going to have some opportunities out there. But he's worked hard. He's definitely hungry to come out and earn his spot on this team. I'm excited to see him. He knows what his issues are in terms of a little bit of sideways stuff. We have to get him going downhill and we got to get him attacking more and when he does that he's much more effective and I think he sees that and knows that. Now it's a matter of him taking that out there and seeing how effective he can be. Like I said, I'm excited to see him.''
So if he makes the most out of his opportunities, what is he showing you primarily? Is it all about attacking the line, are there other concerns?
‘'To me, that's been the biggest deal, and we spoke to him. To me, talent wise, he has the ability, and Milton has his own style and the one thing, to me as a coach, a guy gets a scholarship based on his style so you don't want to come in and say, ‘You have to throw all that out the window. It works for him. He's here, so it must work.' But we have to kind of find a way to kind of dovetail that style into the offense and what we want and so, you know, earlier on last year he did a good job.
‘'We had some Wildcat packages for him and he'd kind of go in and do his deal and he did it well, had a nice day against Washington changed the tempo of the game. Then he had other carries throughout the season, but Washington is the game where he came in and gave us a little spark. But we want him to be able to take his style and integrate it into the offense. It has to be a little bit more of an aggressive style. A little bit more - go get your five yards, go get your six yards, go attack it. You may not get it early on, but eventually if you keep attacking it, in the second half that will be 15 yards if you just trust it.
‘'Initially, the biggest thing, I felt like a good scrimmage or a good play for him was based on if he made 20 yards and I said, ‘Milton, we're not talking about that. We're talking about what you're going to do with this particular scenario in front of you right now. OK? You don't have a whole bunch? OK, go get your four yards, go get five yards … go get three yards. That's fine.
‘'We see the big picture, if there's not much going (on a play). But don't go in there and if you don't have anything, start dancing and then it's a no-gain or it's a loss of one or two. We just have to reshape his thinking a little, but he seems very receptive and has had a good offseason as well. I'm looking forward to seeing him go out and seeing what he can bring to the field.''
Thigpen, with where he is physically, can he be more than just a situational guy at this point?
‘'You know, I've talked to him. But he is what he is. I mean, he was that when he got here and, you know, I don't know that there's going to be a whole lot to change about that package physically. But the things that he did do, the things that we asked him to do, he was fantastic at.
‘'Now, is that role going to expand? I don't know, that kind of depends on how much more maturity there is because he's worked like the dickens in the weight room. He's gotten himself much stronger. Now it's a matter of seeing just how the offseason has helped him mature, get more confident, stronger, and is he going to be a little more of an aggressive guy.
‘'Is he going to be able to break an arm tackle here or there, be a little bit more of a physical guy. You know, it's getting harder to create space with the level of people that we're playing against these days. I mean, those guys on defense are big and fast and everything, too. It's hard to create. What we had to do in some cases last year was try to create some of those things for him. So, it's going to be interesting to see this time if he's going to be more in the mainstream of things.
‘'Has he gotten stronger? I think he has. If he has and he can go in and perform at that level, then it's no problem. He's already shown us what he can do from the other standpoint, in terms of being able to get him in and run a reverse here or do this or do that, whatever.
‘'But I want to be able to see just where he is when running from scrimmage, seeing what he's absorbed because, you know, we talk with these guys after the season and kind of let them know what we think and what they need and I think he attacked the weight room, understanding that he needed to get more physical. Not only from standpoint of weight-wise, but if he got stronger, he's going to be more confident anyway and I think he has.''
With the fullbacks, Allmond in particular, there has been some speculation that he might grow out of that, become a defensive lineman …
‘'Well, I think he was up to 270. But he's down to 259. He'll be down below 255 before spring, and that's fine. He was that big almost when he got here. That's fine. He's a big guy – 250ish, I don't have a problem with that. But 270, nah. By the time we start spring, he'll be below 255.''
But, as far as his future, you see it at fullback?
‘'Right now that's what I see it as, unless he refuses to keep his weight down and balloons up to 280 pounds or something. Then, he might be able to help our team better on defense. But right now, like I said, he's working his way down and I'm looking for him to make himself and earn himself a role because that's what we brought him here for - to be a big bruising fullback, to be a lineman in the backfield that has some ball skills. You know, when he blocks a linebacker he's blocked, and be able to skip him out and catch a ball and do some things.
‘'He's shown an aptitude to do all that, but just how much has he matured over the year? I don't know. He looks good. Physically, he looks good. It will be interesting to see where he is from the mental aspect of it – is he ready to grasp the offense now?
‘'Guys will tell you, ‘Hey, you've got to get me on the field.' I mean, we don't tell them, they tell us. So if he's coming out, hitting hard and executing, being a presence out there, then he's telling us, ‘Hey, I'm ready.' We're not going to sit a guy who can help us have a good Saturday evening by winning the game. He's not going to sit on the bench.
‘'But, you know, you can't talk about it. You have to come and show us that you have earned the right to go out and perform like we brought you here. Last year, he redshirted. So it will be interesting to see what he picked up during the redshirt year. Was he working on his craft? Was he down, trying to keep his knees bent and hitting through guys and not to them?
‘'All of those things will start to payoff for the guys who redshirted last year because you tell them, hey, you know, this isn't just go down and read a (play) card or whatever, you've got to go down and work on your game because it will be here before you know it.
‘'Look at it like this, it's March. I mean, the freshmen will be here in June. It won't be long. We'll be in Manhattan, Kan., before you know it. So you tell those guys, ‘I know it seems like a long season because you're redshirting, you're not playing. But take this and work on your game, work on your craft, because when it's over it's over and you have to have gained something out of it.' So when the spring comes around, you've got your mindset and you've been working on the things that we talked to you about – staying low, reading this and that. Yeah, you're helping our defense out by reading the cards and all that, but you're still a football player. You still have to work on your game. So, we'll see what he's done.''
Like you said, come the fall, you'll be shuffling the deck again with the two freshmen coming in. …
‘'Yeah, but the thing is, that usually takes care of itself. They'll usually see who is going to have the aptitude and there's enough time to create situations to see who is going to grasp it and see where they are. But the key thing to me right now is to feel good about the guys you've got here.
‘'You know, if you were to look at our situation right now and say, ‘Who is the running back at UCLA?' I don't know. In terms of, like, a name recognition where you say, ‘Oh, Derrick Coleman is the running back at UCLA. Or, Franklin is the running back.' I mean, I don't know.
‘'My point is, there isn't a guy who can walk out there and say he is a legitimate guy. Now, a guy has got to go out there first because a guy has to go out there. We have to put somebody out there. But, based on everything that I know now, this is the way we're going to put you guys out there. Now whether you stay out there or not depends on you and those other guys. If those other guys like seeing you out there, then you'll be there. If those other guys don't like seeing you out there, then they'll be there. That's the way we have to go about it with this competition and then when those freshmen get here, you know, like I said, we're going to put them in situations and they'll show us what they've got.
‘'We told them we were going to give them an opportunity and we will and that's all anybody can ask for is a chance and they'll have it. But we want to find out this spring what we have, what's here, that you can actually see. We don't see those freshmen. Yeah, we know they're coming and they know what the plans are for them once they get here, but the guys this spring, those are the guys and we have to find out what's going on.''
You've recruited a lot of good backs in your career, but have you ever sat there, say, the day after signing day and thought … ‘Wow, Malcolm Jones and Jordon James …' Have you ever had a pair like that in the same class before?
‘'I'll tell you what, at one time we had Karim Abdul-Jabbar and Skip Hicks (a year apart). That's pretty good. When I was here, that was a pretty good combo. But obviously we're excited about these two guys because they both bring a lot to the table and they both bring different things to the table. So, everybody isn't just bringing the vegetables. One guy is bringing the vegetable and the other guy is bringing the mashed potatoes or something, as opposed to both of them are bringing vegetables. That's too much vegetables. You know? Both of them bring different things to the table and that's what's exciting about it, the different styles. To me, the compliment of those two guys is what is so intriguing as well. I mean, you've got ‘boom' and then you've got a guy who goes ‘whoosh.' It's just exciting to have a couple of guys that we feel real good about coming in here and have different styles and stuff like that.''
Switching gears, how much of a future do you think the Wildcat has in this offense?
‘'I don't know. It's kind of a supplement to, you know, try to help us get a little run game. Everybody talks about, ‘Hey, they've got too many to block and that kind of helps you to at least get a blocker on the extra guy.' But, I mean, they were playing that football way back when the coach had the big hat on and everybody sat on the bench and the coach had a trench coat on. It wasn't any reinvention. I mean, it was, hey, if this can help us a little bit let's use it and it did.
‘'You know, Milton in that Washington game, it gave us a little different look, a little different dimension, evened up the numbers, and he made a couple of plays for us and we got a win out of it.
‘'But, to answer your question, I don't know it if will be anything more than what it was – hey, let's try this. Or, maybe that's Milt's deal or whoever … ‘Hey, he's a good Wildcat guy, let's see.' Maybe that's where it goes this spring, but I don't know. We'll probably dabble in it a little bit, I'm sure.''
What makes Milton a good Wildcat guy?
‘'Milt, he had a pretty good presence about him with snap count. Some guys, they're not good at that. I mean, they're not good back there with snap count and getting motion going because, a lot of times, the motion with the fake is the thing that gets the defense – does he have it, did he hand it off?
‘'So, getting all that timed up, you have to have a guy who has a little bit of savvy and a little bit of moxie. You have to have a guy that watches football, which Derrick … you know, he isn't a big football-watching guy. But Milt was good at that. And then, obviously, being a good runner.
‘'What it also did, it gave us an opportunity to get Milt the ball. Last year, if you remember, we were playing four or five running backs and that's hard to do, in terms of guys going in. It's, ‘Hey, I'm not getting a feel.' Well, I'm sorry. I can understand what they're saying, but by the same token, right now, I think that gave us the best chance to win by playing these guys, otherwise we wouldn't play them.
‘'But, we played four or five running backs in some cases last year and that's hard to do. But this, specifically, got Milt on the field and we wouldn't have to worry so much about getting him in with the mainstream of things because, hey, we've got you a package here and so he concentrated and worked on that and then the other guys worked on what they did. Then, we wouldn't have to practice everybody at everything. It was more reps for the guys doing this and we had Milt handle that and that made it a lot easier to practice and things like that.''
It wasn't Wildcat stuff, but (Chane) Moline had some reps from that formation …
‘'Yeah, but it was a little different because, from our standpoint, we took a different guy out personnel wise. So, you know, the Wildcat we took out a receiver and put a tight end in and what Moline was doing, we had a different name for it. Basically, it was in the same family … it was in the same refrigerator. If you looked in there you would see both of them.''
With Moline, the idea was more of a power-type run, getting the extra blocker into power …
‘'Yeah, and like I said, from a personnel standpoint it was a little different. And with that one, we started the quarterback underneath center, so they couldn't check to something of whatever, then he would motion out and we did it. As opposed to Wildcat, the quarterback was at receiver already.''
When you went out this offseason looking at what other teams are doing, was that one of the things that you wanted to get more information on?
‘'Not necessarily. During your offseason, you talk to different people and coaches and that's just kind of what you do, to try to improve yourself. You might want to take some of the things that they had and put it in your deal. I don't know if anybody has invented anything in football. Like the Wildcat, if you go way back to the black and white film, they were running the Wildcat.
‘'I mean, once the season is over, like last year and the year before, we always go and see, you know, who is doing what and let's go and talk to them, and we've had people come here. You always professionally are trying to find out who did what good, who did whatever, and then you go and talk to them and see what they do that you can use and apply to yourself.''