Myles Jack was so good as a freshman last season that he appears twice on the cover of the 2014 UCLA media guide. Next to a picture of him carrying the ball are the words "2013 Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year." The other picture shows him about to make a tackle, and there&;#39;s the phrase "2013 Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year."
Jack had one of the best rookie seasons in UCLA history, but he's settled back to earth in his sophomore year. In 2013, he averaged seven yards per carry as a running back and scored seven times. In 2014, those numbers are 2.3 yards per carry and one touchdown.
Defensively, he's second on the team in tackles, but hasn't been credited with a turnover and hasn't had a ton of highlight-reel plays. He's been solid, but not spectacular.
"Last year, it was pretty much anything goes," Jack said Tuesday. "It was kind of the defensive linemen doing whatever they wanted and the linebackers doing whatever they wanted. That's why you saw those highlight plays, and then those big plays that happened. This year, I'm staying within my gap and playing within the defense. That's what I'm taught to do and coached to do."
Jack spent a lot of his off-season working on rushing the passer, but hasn't been put in a lot of situations to do that this season. Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich rarely has linebackers blitz, so Jack hasn't recorded a sack and has just one tackle for loss (he had seven last season).
In the new defensive scheme, there isn't a lot of room for those Superman-type plays. Jack has had to play with more control and focus on his assignment.
"I feel like with the guys that we have that pass rush, they're better than me," Jack said. "My role is more in coverage and playing behind the ball, that's where they put me more this year, so that's what they have me focusing on. I feel like it's been working."
Another part of this is how teams are preparing for him. On offense, Jack has noticed defenses keying on him when he enters the game.
On defense, Jack played next to linebacker Anthony Barr last season. Teams were focusing on one of the best Bruins defenders in recent memory, freeing Jack to make those big plays.
This year, he's next to Eric Kendricks. A good player, but not Barr.
"Last year I guess I didn't really blow up on the scene or whatever until later in the season, so that's kind of how I look at it," Jack said. "That's not really my role. My role is to play linebacker, and when they need, to put me in at running back. Superman is Ishmael Adams over there. I'm just Myles Jack."
Jack said team members worked on trusting each other during spring and summer ball. If a linebacker knows exactly where the other members of the front seven are going to be, he doesn't have to worry about making a big play and can instead focus on his own assignment.
Whether that has actually worked remains to be seen. The team struggled mightily against the run, especially in the fourth quarter, against Utah last Saturday. Ulbrich and Mora have talked about gap assignments and trust extensively over the last week, saying improvement is needed.
All this is not to say that Jack has had a bad season. It's just been an adjustment for the player good enough to be on the cover of a media guide at two positions.
"I'm just kind of playing within the defense," Jack said. "When the plays come to me, I just want to make them. I feel like I've been doing that. I mean, sometimes you kind of feel like you're in a slump, but I don't know. We'll just kind of see how the season goes, it's a young season and I'm a sophomore, so I'm still figuring things out, still learning and trying to become a better player. I don't have it figured out, I don't have all the answers and everything, but I'm learning and we'll see."