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UCLA linemen and running backs bonding over food

UCLA offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch sits on the bench during the first half of a gane against Virginia at Rose Bowl on Sept. 5.

UCLA offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch sits on the bench during the first half of a gane against Virginia at Rose Bowl on Sept. 5.

(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
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If it’s Wednesday, then it’s dinner at Caleb’s.

It’s an intimate place on the Westside with a loyal clientele and hearty food.

UCLA linemen and running backs gather at junior tackle Caleb Benenoch’s place each Wednesday. It’s a break from the rigors of school and the intensity of Coach Jim Mora’s program.

The group orders food, plays some video games and, Benenoch said, “we just hang out.”

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There are on-field benefits to the weekly ritual. UCLA averages 236 yards rushing per game, which ranks 22nd nationally. Junior running back Paul Perkins is 10th nationally with 514 yards rushing.

The dinners, Perkins said, “give us a greater relationship and a greater bond with the guys who are blocking for us. And vice versa; they need to have a relationship with us.”

The symbiotic bond between back and lineman has always been there. But there was a belief this year that enhancing the connection would lead to more team success.

Benenoch offered his place off campus.

“It was just something the offensive linemen decided to do,” Benenoch said. “We wanted to hang out somewhere other than in school and meeting rooms. It’s a stressful job we have.”

Dinner consists of pizza or barbecue. “Anything the linemen want,” sophomore running back Nate Starks said.

Joked center Jake Brendel: “We get a pizza and the running backs get a slice.”

Said Perkins: “I can eat just as much as they do.”

The cost?

“We pay. We eat more,” sophomore tackle Conor McDermott said.

Said Perkins: “Hey, we offer to chip in.”

The jabs back and forth are signs of a tight relationship. And there is no arguing the success rate. UCLA running backs are averaging 6.6 yards a carry.

“We wanted to get away from the school atmosphere and the burdens of playing football at a big-time football program,” Benenoch said. “We just want to get away and have fun with each other.”

Safety valve

Shuffling in the UCLA secondary has brought Randall Goforth home.

After cornerback Fabian Moreau was lost for the season with a broken foot, Goforth, a safety, shifted to cornerback against Arizona last Saturday.

“I was a cornerback before I was a safety, back in my Long Beach Poly [High] days,” said Goforth, a junior. “It’s kind of going back to my roots.”

Goforth remains one of the vital players on a defense that has lost three veteran starters — Moreau, tackle Eddie Vanderdoes (knee) and linebacker Myles Jack (knee). He helps the defense get lined up correctly on each play.

His move to cornerback will not affect that, but there are subtle differences to his new post.

“You just see the field differently,” Goforth said. “I’m just guarding my side now.”

The coverage techniques are basically the same, but, he said, “You have different reads in the middle of the field compared to being on the island.”

Goforth’s move created a need for safeties. Receivers Mossi Johnson and Jordan Lasley were shifted to defense last week. Johnson saw some time at safety in the Arizona game.

“Mossi is a natural athlete,” Goforth said. “We can put him at safety, cornerback, running back, receiver. Safety is big for us right now. We need him back there.”

Brown out?

UCLA may be getting thinner at linebacker. The Bruins have already lost Jack, who was strong in pass coverage and against the run. Now junior Jayon Brown has health issues.

Brown, who replaced Jack in the starting lineup, suffered a back injury during the Arizona game. He was at practice Wednesday but was not in pads.

“Jayon is a big part of our game plan because he does a lot of different things for us,” defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. “The skills that he brings allow him to do a little linebacker and play a little strong safety. He enables us to have more moving parts on our defense.”

Follow Chris Foster on Twitter @cfosterlatimes

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