UCLA Football

Is UCLA Coach Jim Mora Risking Myles Jack's Future by Playing Him 2 Ways?

USA Today
Kyle KensingContributor INovember 16, 2013

Freshman linebacker Myles Jack is one of the most electric defensive playmakers in the Pac-12. For a second consecutive week, he proved to be the same on offense, this time in a 41-31 win over Washington that puts UCLA head coach Jim Mora in an interesting dilemma.   

Mora told reporters earlier this week Jack's number of repetitions at running back "depends on the situation," per UCLABruins.com

The circumstances that forced Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to use their freshman linebacker at running back a week ago against Arizona necessitated the freshman to again play on both sides of the ball on Friday—against his hometown team that recruited him at both linebacker and running back. 

He didn't just meet the high bar set in his Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week-winning offensive performance last Saturday, he exceeded it against the Huskies. Jack matched a UCLA milestone that was untouched for nearly a decade, rushing for four touchdowns. Maurice Jones-Drew was the last Bruin to accomplish that, in 2004, and it's the second-most rushing touchdowns a Bruin ball-carrier has ever scored in a game. 

Yet another outstanding offensive performance means talk will persist of Jack doubling up even after starting running back Jordon James gets back to 100 percent from an ankle injury. After all, Jack's five touchdowns in the past two weeks are as many as James scored in the Bruins' first four games.

Ultimately, the buzz will be just that—idle chatter that lasts for a few weeks but fades. Simply put, a weekly workload that has Jack on the field for 100-plus snaps is too demanding to be sustainable. 

He told ESPN in his postgame interview he was "exhausted" after rushing 13 times against Washington. Only Paul Perkins carried the ball more for the Bruins, with 21. 

So Jack's appearance on the offensive side wasn't limited just to goal-line snaps or other special circumstances, as Mora suggested might be the case. And with Malcolm Jones sustaining a head injury Friday, the backfield situation at UCLA is further muddied. 

It stands to reason, then, that seeing Jack on both sides is something to which the football-following nation should get accustomed. If he does, he'll make modern history. 

In recent memory, there have only been a few other two-way stars in the college game, with Michigan's 1997 Heisman Trophy-winning cornerback Charles Woodson being the most notable.

Per Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News, former UCLA head coach and current Pac-12 Network analyst Rick Neuheisel compared Jack's dual-position play to former Holy Cross standout and two-time Heisman finalist Gordie Lockbaum

The modern game's complexities don't allow for the week-in, week-out two-way role. Understanding the nuances of an offensive playbook or defensive coverage is a full-time job. 

Typically, such instances are seen in trick plays, like another of Mazzone's experiments on display Friday, when defensive end Cassius Marsh was used as a red-zone receiver. 

The two-way, offensive-defensive player is a relic of an era of football reserved for historical footnotes and grandfathers to pontificate on how much tougher athletes were in yesteryear. To wit, Chuck Bednarik was among the last full-time offensive and defensive players more than a half-century ago. 

Bednarik's name graces the award given to college football's best defensive player—an award that, coincidentally, Jack has the ability to pursue in his UCLA career. 

And therein lies perhaps the most significant reason Jack can't play both offense and defense for the long haul. He's just too good at linebacker to spread thin with a hefty offensive workload. 

Jack made no bones about signing with UCLA to play linebacker, a point he emphasized after the win last week at Arizona, per the Los Angeles Daily News, and reemphasized in his postgame interview, per SportsCenter's Twitter account. 

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