UCLA Spring Football Preview: Bruins Begin Search for Johnathan Franklin Replacement

Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE

Damien Thigpen, Jordon James and Steven Manfro are the leading candidates to fill the void left by Johnathan Franklin.

There may be no player that will be harder to replace in the Pac-12 in 2013 than Johnathan Franklin. UCLA's leading career rusher was not only one of the conference's leading rushers in 2012, but also the heart and soul of the refurbished Bruins under Jim Mora in his first year. Though his shoes may be far too large for anyone to likely step in and fill, finding a new starting running back to replace the graduated Franklin, assuredly has to be the Bruins' biggest mission this spring.

The good news for UCLA is that even though Franklin was shouldering a huge load in 2012 and even though quarterback Brett Hundley was regularly making plays with his feet, a good number of carries were given out to other running backs who will be returning for the Bruins in 2013. None really established themselves as the clear cut number two back last year but senior Damien Thigpen, junior Jordon James and sophomore Steven Manfro all got their hands on the ball a little bit in 2012 and made some plays.

Thigpen had the most production of the three with 262 yards and two touchdowns rushing and 217 yards and 2 touchdowns. He is only 5'8 180, so it is unlikely that the will be counted on as an every down back, but his experience and shifty running will likely make him a key fixture in the Bruins' backfield and they will assuredly try to start getting him more carries this spring.

A 5'9 193 junior, James saw a significant more amount of action on the ground than Manfro, rushing for 215 yards to Manfro's 70 and is the more explosive of the two. James is speedy and has the ability to bust big plays which will likely give him the edge, but like Thigpen, he has yet to prove whether or not he can be a back that can handle a heavy load.

Even if Thigpen or James firmly grabs hold of the starting position, it is likely that Manfro will be counted on for production, especially with James not being the biggest back out there. A 5'9 193 sophomore, Manfro is actually the exact same size as James and like Thigpen and James, can also catch the ball out of the backfield well. Manfro may not be the big play back that Thigpen and James are, but his versatility will likely get him onto the field.

There is a collection of other running backs on the Bruins' roster who have had a tiny bit of playing time, or younger players who have yet to see the field, but it is unlikely that any will be able to usurp any of the three more experienced backs. One player to keep an eye on though will be senior Malcolm Jones, who despite being one of the most highly rated players in the country coming out of high school when he signed, has failed to make a mark. The Bruins would assuredly love to get some production out of Jones though, as at 6'0 220 he is the only big back they have on the roster and could fill a role that none of the more experienced backs can.

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