Replacing Franklin: UCLA RB Preview
Running back Jonathan Franklin was the gift of Jim Mora’s inaugural 2012 season at UCLA. In 2012, Franklin slashed UCLA records, setting marks in single-season (1,734) and career (4,369) rushing yards, and single-season all-purpose yards (2,024). His emergence as a dominant running back enabled quarterback Brett Hundley to grow into a star. But now Franklin will patrol the frigid Lambeau Field for the Green Bay Packers and not the warm, sunny confines of the Rose Bowl in Southern California.
Replacing 1,734 rushing yards will be tough, if not impossible, in 2013. But UCLA has viable options at the position. UCLA's committee of talented backs all have different attributes and abilities. So even if they don’t achieve 1,734 rushing yards, the general feeling in the program is they can at least achieve a 1,000 yards with the group of players they have. Here is a quick glimpse of the five competing for the running back position:
Damien Thigpen, Senior: Thigpen is a versatile running back that possesses a strong combination of speed and agility. He was third on the team with in 2012 with 849 all purpose yards while serving as a running back and kick/punt returner. Some feel he's a shoe-in to replace Franklin; however, he is recovering from a knee injury and missed UCLA’s annual spring game at the Rose Bowl in late April. If Thigpen can get and stay healthy, he will receive a majority of the carries this season. But if his health problems persist he may be pushed to the back of the competition.
Steve Manfro, Sophmore: Manfro has good hands, big-play ability and is versatile like Thigpen. The general feeling is the former “Outstanding Scout Team Player” award winner can be a serviceable running back in 2013. Manfro rushed eight times for 70 yards and had 28 receptions for 287 yards last season. This includes a 49-yard touchdown reception against Nebraska at the Rose Bowl in September. Manfro possesses proven big-play ability and can easily become the fan favorite if he can have a solid Fall camp. However, his shoulder was an issue during spring practices and it caused him to miss the spring game.
Paul Perkins, Freshman: Perkins is a dynamic player who grew up in a football family. Both his dad, Bruce Perkins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, and his uncle, Don Perkins, Dallas Cowboys, played in the NFL. Perkins compiled three receptions for 30 yards in the spring game, splitting time with Jordan Jones. If Perkins doesn’t get much playing time this season, his time will come next year.
Jordan James, Junior: James is a solid back that has been stuck behind Franklin his entire UCLA career. Now with Franklin gone, James will have a chance to showcase his skills provided he can stay consistent and healthy. In 2012, James had 61 rushes for 215 yards and two touchdowns, and behind Thigpen was the third-most used running back for the Bruins.
Malcom Jones, Senior: Jones is the X-Factor heading into the 2013 season. Frustrated with the lack of playing time, Jones left UCLA and forfeited his scholarship in 2012. After some soul and school searching Jones came to the realization UCLA is where he needs to be and coach Mora agreed. Now all 6-foot and 220 pounds of him is back in a Bruins uniform and he is looking to make an impact. Jones, a former High School Gatorade Player of the Year, is a talented and sturdy football player that can impose his will on opponents provided he keeps low to the ground. Known for playing with aggression, Jones is looking to take the spotlight vacated by Franklin. As long as he attacks the line of scrimmage consistently look for Jones to have a solid fall camp and season.
The spring practices did little to clarify who will be the premier starting running back for the UCLA Bruins in 2013. It will take the fall practices and more than likely the first third of the season to establish who, if anyone, will step into the hole left by Franklin. However, the early favorite should be Malcolm Jones, providing he doesn’t get frustrated with the selection process Mora is sure to lay out. Establishing a running game is high on the priority list for UCLA because without a balanced attack the pressure will be all on Hundley. Too much pressure on Hundley may hamper his development and take the steam away from a currently thriving UCLA program.