Myles Jack generated 2014 Heisman Trophy buzz with his double duty as linebacker and running back for UCLA. Heading into his second season with the Bruins, Jack is deserving of the national attention and award consideration—just prepare for it to come from his play on defense.
UCLA head coach Jim Mora was adamant from Jack's debut at running back—a 31-26 win at Arizona on Nov. 9—that the freshman linebacker was fulfilling a desperately needed role and nothing more.
"You get carried away sometimes...You use a guy in too many spots, he loses his effectiveness in all spots," Mora said in a teleconference call on Nov. 12. "Myles has had a great year at linebacker, and he is a linebacker."
His natural position is where Jack best fills the Bruins' needs as they prepare for possible conference title run in 2014. UCLA loses one standout at outside linebacker in two-time All-American Anthony Barr.
Barr was among the nation's most feared pass-rushers each of the last two seasons, and he was quick and athletic enough to drop back into pass coverage. It's rare that a team can replace someone of Barr's caliber with a player who has a similar skill set, but that's what UCLA has in Jack.
Jack finished 2013 with seven tackles for loss, third behind only Barr and defensive end Cassius Marsh. His 13 passes defended led the Bruins.
The Arizona game may have been Jack's coming-out party as a running back, but it was also a reminder of just how valuable he is on defense. That night, he made eight tackles, and his recovery of a Ka'Deem Carey goal-line fumble was as much of a momentum-changing play as his 66-yard touchdown rush.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's needs prompted him to concoct a late-season strategy that employed not only Jack but also defensive linemen Marsh and Eddie Vanderdoes as receivers and ball-carriers.
"If we can find a role—not a major role, but a reduced role—that's going to help us win a football game, we're going to do that," Mora said.
Jack tripled up for UCLA, also playing on special teams where he blocked a kick. The need for Jack to take on so many responsibilities likely won't be as great in 2014 as it was down the stretch of 2013.
The Bruins' running back corps ended last season as an infirmary ward.
Jordon James capably filled Johnathan Franklin's void at feature back before suffering an ankle injury in October. Damien Thigpen battled injury throughout the season.
UCLA's 2014 running back crop includes James, as well as change-of-pace back Paul Perkins, who came at season's end, scoring touchdowns in each of the Bruins' final three games. UCLA will also have 2013 4-star signee Craig Lee available after a redshirt season.
An offseason of healing should replenish UCLA at running back.
It's a deep and diverse group when fully healthy, prepped to take on every aspect of the position. That's an important caveat Mora touched on after the Washington game via Coaching Search, and it pertains to getting Jack touches with a full running back corps next season.
There’s so much more to being a running back than just carrying the ball. The protection aspect is so undervalued. Nobody ever talks about it. All you see is a guy carrying the ball, but he’s got to be able to stand in there and know who to block when they blitz.
Indeed, there are nuances to playing running back that require more practice time and are frankly less glamorous than running for touchdowns.
Mora and Mazzone could give Jack goal-line carries in an effort to pad his Heisman profile. Barring another desperate situation akin to this season, though, they should not do so at the expense of backs taking on those other, less desirable responsibilities.
Fans and pundits wanting to see Jack on offense is understandable. He wasn't just adequate as a running back; he was electric.
He ended the regular season as the Bruins' rushing touchdown leader, thanks largely to a four-score game against Washington. His nod as Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year was deserved and noteworthy, given that fellow freshmen All-Americans Arizona wide receiver Nate Phillips and UCLA offensive lineman Alex Redmond were also options.
Jack was also named Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-American at linebacker.
His ceiling is sky-high—and his work there is just beginning.
If winning the Heisman requires a top linebacker, such as Jack, to play offense, it's an indictment on the award—not on Jack.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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