What Was Behind UCLA's Decision to Play Linebacker Myles Jack at RB?

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What Was Behind UCLA's Decision to Play Linebacker Myles Jack at RB?
USA Today

Myles Jack does it all for the No. 13 UCLA Bruins—quite literally. The true freshman linebacker has garnered plenty of attention for his play on the defensive side this season, but his willingness to fill in at running back in Saturday's 31-26 over Arizona earned him Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week.

Head coach Jim Mora told reporters after Monday's practice that Jack's offensive star turn was no surprise, via UCLABruins.com.

"We're not going to do something as a gimmick. It's got to have merit," he said.

Hints of Jack lining up in the backfield lingered for a few weeks, but the linebacker told the Los Angeles Daily News he believed "[the coaches] were joking about it."

Jack playing on both sides of the ball proved to be no laughing matter—not for Arizona, anyway. He filled an especially glaring hole with his 120-yard performance and game-saving touchdown. 

The injury bug has bitten UCLA especially hard since the Bruins entered conference play. Losing offensive linemen Simon Goines and Torian White limited UCLA offensively in key games against Stanford and Oregon, and nagging ankle issues for leading ball-carrier Jordon James compounded the problem.

With a number of running backs behind James on the depth chart, finding his replacement may have seemed easier than replacing the lost veterans on the offensive line. However, no one from the trio of running backs Paul Perkins, Damien Thigpen and Malcolm Jones had a 100-yard rushing game since James' injury. 

Addressing the pedestrian run game required an unorthodox approach. Luckily for UCLA, it has what Mora described to the Arizona Daily Star's Jonathan Gold as "a mad scientist" in offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone

Among Mazzone's experiments was using Jack at running back—not exactly a stretch, given the freshman's play on offense at the state of Washington's prep powerhouse Bellevue. And he remembered at least one key component of offense: Following holes blockers open yields results. 

Jack's defensive prowess is well-established. He fits seamlessly into a veteran linebacker corps that with Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt was already one of the nation's best. 

He's also played special teams, most notably blocking a punt at Oregon. Jack continued his role on special teams Saturday, where he had the lone blemish on an otherwise perfect night. The Bruins attempted a fake punt deep in their own territory in the second quarter, but Sean Covington's lob to an open Jack sailed just past the linebacker's hands. 

Even with the missed catch, it was an outstanding evening in what promises to be a standout career—outstanding, and exhausting. 

Mora said that between his typical linebacker duties, lining up in the backfield and playing special teams, Jack was on the field for nearly 120 snaps. 

Even for a spry youngster like Jack, that's too intense a workload to carry for the Bruins' three remaining games. A spot in the Pac-12 championship game is at stake when the Bruins host Washington and Arizona State before traveling to USC in the upcoming three weeks. 

Mora said Monday that Jack's offensive appearances would be limited to the right situation, which likely means more time for the freshman to focus on where he's been best—at linebacker. 

Jack told the Los Angeles Daily News he prefers linebacker, and he certainly excels in his natural position. But if UCLA's Rose Bowl aspirations hinge on Jack doubling up, don't be surprised to see a situation that calls for him at running back again in this final stretch. 

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