UCLA junior linebacker Myles Jack is a thief.
Just ask him.
“I steal things from other people’s games,” Jack said.
Jack started taking as a freshman in 2013 while playing with one of the best linebacker units in UCLA history.
The stoic and fierce Anthony Barr was on the right. Jordan Zumwalt was in charge of the chaos as a middle linebacker. Eric Kendricks, the other guy in the middle, was analytical — to a point, then he started hitting.
Jack was robbing from the rich who were making opponents feel poor.
Last season, Barr became a star with the Minnesota Vikings while Zumwalt plied his havoc-causing wares with the Pittsburgh Steelers. And Kendricks was drafted in the second round by the Vikings last spring.
Jack, whose mandate as a freshman was “to go make plays,” is the last man standing from that fab four and wants to rearrange his game.
He has moved from the outside to the middle, an effort by coaches to prevent teams from running away from him. As part of that switch, Jack sees the need for an alter-ego voice from the on-field chatter he dishes out in practice and games.
“When I see stuff that needs to be fixed, I have to speak up,” Jack said. “I’m used to E.K. or someone else doing that. I was in my own little world. I have to open up my business and be accountable for everybody.”
He draws from those who were at his side two years ago.
Jack said that from Barr, “I learned to be focused. He was never aware of [the] score or how much time was left. He was just going.”
Zumwalt, Jack said, “was a bull in a china stop. There were practices when I didn’t feel like playing and I’d see him running around, goofing around and get fired up.”
As for Kendricks, Jack spent two seasons playing beside him and said, “I saw maturity and knowledge. He was precise at everything.”
Three “extraordinary players,” Bruins Coach Jim Mora said. As for Jack, Mora said, “The talent is obvious, he just needs to work on the little things.”
Something Jack knows can’t be done in private.
“My freshman year, I was just out there having fun,” Jack said. “Now I’m on this poster and that poster, everybody knows my face. Everyone is watching.”
What he wants them to see is, “the complete package.”
That package is a 6-foot-1, 245-pound play-angry bundle that came equipped with running-back-like speed.
Jack’s raw skills allowed him to flourish as a freshman. His resume included saving a victory over Utah with a goal-line interception on the last play. “I was creating, experimenting, taking chances,” Jack said. “And it worked out.”
He became a national phenomenon when he was inserted at running back and trampled Arizona for 120 yards in six carries. His prep work for that performance was a few minutes during a walk-through the morning of the game.
That rampage continued as a sophomore, both as a linebacker and in cameo appearances at running back. His abilities had teammates in awe.
“I remember one summer practice, he had 10 interceptions in a row during a one-on-one drill,” linebacker Deon Hollins said. “That’s unheard of.”
Bruins running back Paul Perkins said, “Everyone remembers the Arizona moment. What they don’t notice are the times he sheds two blockers and gets to the ball. He knows how to read a cutback and is athletic to suck you in.”
Growing pains also came along for the ride.
Last summer, Jack was tossed from a training camp practice after a handful of verbal assaults on teammates. He admitted later that what was harsher than Mora’s admonishment was the call from his mother as soon as he reached the dorm room.
It was a lesson in how quickly social media reacts.
“It’s an adjustment when everybody is watching you,” Jack said. His journey, he said, “might seem crazy to some people, but it’s been even crazier to me.”
The Bruins don’t want him to ditch the craziness altogether, and he hasn’t.
Jack was a ball of hyperactivity after making plays Tuesday during practice, bouncing around the field with primal screams. “I’m not out there tooting my own horn,” he said. “I just love playing football.”
But he has worked on picking those alpha-male moments.
“He has very strong competitive skills, he wants to win bad,” defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. “Where he is getting better is at the mental part. ‘OK, that play is over. The next play is what matters now.’ ”
Mora said Jack, “is not a rah-rah guy,” But, he said, leadership is emerging.
It’s a work in progress, Jack admits.
“It’s a difference in tone,” Jack said. “Knowing how to say things to each individual. Some people you can’t jump on in front of everybody. Some people you have to get on. It’s knowing when and when not, and how to say what needs to be said.”
Basically, Jack said, “I’m just trying to be perfect.”
Something, he hopes, will be stolen from him.