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UCLA football preview: Running backs

August 2, 2009 |  1:03 pm

Christian UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel wanted to make one thing perfectly clear last week at the Pacific 10 Conference’s media day.

“We’re going to be able to run the ball or die trying this year,” Neuheisel said, then paused, then hammered it home again. “We’re going to be able to run the ball or die trying this year.”

A dramatic leap in ability and execution will be required to keep the Bruins off life-support.

UCLA ranked 116 out of 120 BCS Division teams in rushing last season, averaging 82.8 yards per game. The Bruins’ average of 2.6 yards per carry was fodder for three-yards-and-ground-to-dust jokes.

To achieve Neuheisel's goal will require an improved offensive, but the Bruins do appear to have the necessary ball carriers if there are holes to be found.

At the head of the class is junior Christian Ramirez, who may be the first player in history who can say being academically ineligible was a plus.

Ramirez wowed Neuheisel during spring practice in 2008, then was ruled ineligible. As a result, he was saved from taking the beating Kahlil Bell and other backs were handed each week. Ramirez returns after using his redshirt year to improve in the classroom.

Ramirez's size (6 feet 2, 222 pounds) and speed are augmented by his pass catching abilities, making him extremely useful in offensive coordinator Norm Chow’s schemes.

“He can go out and make you a three-wide receiver team without any substitution,” Neuheisel said.

This won’t be a solo act, as Neuheisel said, “Everyone pretty much does tailback by committee.”

The Bruins had so much depth at tailback that when Aundre Dean and Raymond Carter transferred following spring practice, it hardly caused a ripple on the depth chart.

Sophomore Derrick Coleman, a 6-foot, 235-pound battering ram, averaged a team-best 5.4 yards per carry. He may lack breakaway speed, but demonstrated shifty open-field abilities last season.

Neuheisel also singled out redshirt freshman Jonathan Franklin as “another piece to the puzzle.” Franklin offers lickety-split speed that Neuheisel said would give the Bruins “a little more diversity.”

Conspicuously missing from Neuheisel’s media day dissertation was redshirt freshman Milton Knox, who showed marked improvement during spring ball. At the moment, he appears to be chasing Franklin for the third spot.

Chane Moline fits the Chow fullback profile with his pass-catching skills. But look for Chow to use two tailbacks at times.

-- Chris Foster

Saturday: Quarterbacks

Monday: Wide receivers

Photo: UCLA tailback Christian Ramirez. Credit: Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty Images

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