UCLA Bruins are seeking a running back who can do it all

Steven Manfro's blocking skills could lead to an increase in playing time for the UCLA sophomore running back.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA is going to miss the 1,734 yards rushing that Johnathan Franklin rolled up. That’s a no-brainer.

What’s No. 2 on the list?

“A running back who can pass-block is probably the quarterback’s best friend,” Brett Hundley — UCLA’s quarterback — said.

Steve Broussard, the Bruins’ running backs coach, is trying to line up Hundley’s next best friend.

UCLA backs have spent time working at chipping linebackers, picking up safeties and identifying cornerbacks who are on a quarterback hunt. It is not the most glamorous chore for the position, but it is a significant skill that will determine playing time.

“It’s a must if you want to stay on the field,” junior running back Jordon James said. “In high school, you’re not worried about blocking, but you better learn protection in college. You need to know what the linebacker is doing, whether the safety or corner are coming.”


James appears to be one of the backs who has a handle on those things.

“Jordon and [Steven] Manfro are there,” Broussard said. Malcolm Jones, “is coming along,” and Paul Perkins “is a little behind.”

All “are coming along, that’s the main thing,” Broussard said.

There are large cleats to fill.

Franklin, a fourth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers, is doing well in training camp because “he has the ability to understand the pass game, and not just how to run routes but who he has in protection,” UCLA Coach Jim Mora said.

It involves more than strength.

“You have to understand the technique because things change fast,” Mora said.

Keeping Hundley upright tops the to-do list this season. Hundley is on board with that.

“You can tell the linemen where they need to go, but most of the time, when that outside guy is coming, or the safety or corner, you need your running back to step up,” Hundley said. “And not just hit them, but run them around.”

Sack time

The Bruins gave up 52 sacks last season.

“I dislike sacks almost as much as I dislike penalties,” Mora said. “Almost.”

The Bruins were the most penalized team in the nation last season. They were only second-worst in sacks allowed.

It took a village, with even Hundley needing to improve.

“Some of the sacks were Brett not wanting to concede a play,” Mora said.

The offensive line, though, is where it starts.

The Bruins seem better equipped this season, with four starters returning. The one open spot may be close to being filled.

Caleb Benenoch, a freshman from Katy (Texas) Seven Lakes High, has been running with the first team.

“Nothing’s decided,” offensive line coach Adrian Klemm said. But Klemm did say that the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Benenoch was “leading.”

“You never win this job,” Benenoch said. “It’s a competition all year.” But, he said, “I’m going be that guy and everyone else is going to have try to take it away from me.”

Klemm said Benenoch arrived in training camp ahead of other freshmen.

“Caleb came in understanding certain principles in our system,” Klemm said. “Some of those things they ran a bit at his school. He’s able to grasp concepts more, why he has to do certain things, not just that he has to do them.”

Injury report

UCLA has a number of injuries with concussion symptoms, with the latest injured player being Jones.

The injuries left the Bruins with 10 offensive linemen. The number dropped to nine when Simon Goines suffered a minor neck injury.

“I don’t know why we seem to have these rash of head injuries,” Mora said. “I’m not sure how serious some are, but we’re going treat all as if they’re serious.”

Freshman cornerback Johnny Johnson is likely to undergo shoulder surgery.

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes