UCLA running back Steven Manfro gets to do everything but the good stuff.
Manfro, who suffered a severe knee injury one week into last season, has worked himself back. By summer, he will be fully cleared. But for now, all he can do is watch when the Bruins get serious in spring practice.
"I'm too close," Manfro said. "I get to see everything. I do all the work, but when the actual fun football starts, I have to leave the field."
This is the final phase in Manfro's recovery. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament — "Pretty much the worst injury you can have," he said — and is not allowed to participate in contact drills.
It was potentially a career-altering injury for a player with Manfro's skills. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound junior has breakaway speed and an elusiveness found mostly in players in a Madden video game.
But Manfro returns with no concerns, having seen former UCLA running back Damien Thigpen battle back from the same injury.
"He came back at full speed," Manfro said. "The only concern I had was how long it was going to take to come back."
Manfro has ground to make up. Running backs Nate Starks and Craig Lee have improved their stock this spring. Both are angling to back up starter Paul Perkins, who gained 1,575 yards last season.
UCLA used Manfro effectively as situational player in 2013, tapping his speed and pass-catching abilities. Athletic trainers are cautious to let him do more until this summer. Then comes the eyeball test from Coach Jim Mora.
"I think what happens at some point is this is less physical and more mental, especially at that position," Mora said. "When you can take that first shot and, for him, jump up and go again, then you feel like he's ready."
Not a problem Manfro said. Just give him the chance.
"I understand there might be a mental barrier, but that doesn't worry me," Manfro said. "All the doctors, all the medical trainers, tell me it's fixed. It feels really good. I'm ready."
Anyone who regularly sees UCLA defensive back Ishmael Adams play never thinks he's too small. Tom Bradley, the Bruins' new defensive coordinator, has already joined the "I like Ish" contingent.
"I'm a big fan of guys who make plays," Bradley said.
Ishmael, listed at 5 feet 8, made one during 11-on-11 team drills Thursday during practice. He swooped in from the right, leapt and deflected a Jerry Neuheisel pass. Linebacker Kenny Young snagged the ball and went for a touchdown.
Add it to a list of Adams' moments this spring, which include out-jumping Alex Van Dyke, a 6-3 receiver, for an interception last week.
"I know there are people who will say, 'He's not tall or he's not this,' but he makes up for a lot of things with his ability," Bradley said. "He's a guy who gets better because he's a guy who is intense on getting better. He makes up for things with his recognition."
It's a big reason why Adams has started 26 consecutive games for UCLA the last two seasons.
The Bruins went through a light practice without full pads.
Neuheisel, running the first team, completed five of eight passes. Quarterback Asiantii Woulard, who ran the second team, completed seven of nine passes.
Receiver Devin Fuller, who has 112 receptions in three seasons, put his skills on display during 11-on-11 work. He had two short receptions that he turned into big gains.
Van Dyke missed practice after suffering a slight hamstring injury on Wednesday. … Lee, who was also injured Wednesday, returned to drills. ... Saturday's practice is closed to the public.