Breaking down the Myles Jack two-way dilemma

LB Myles Jack has found immense success as a tailback. Should UCLA risk using him as a two-way player?

LOS ANGELES -- In just two weeks, Myles Jack has been learning to deal with an intriguing duality. An impressive freshman linebacker that has terrorized offenses all season, he has suddenly found immense and quick success as a tailback.

Jack now finds himself firmly in college football's spotlight with the debate raging. He can barely walk across campus without being stopped and reporters are flying in from all over the country to write the story Jack never expected to be written.

Now what? Does UCLA sacrifice his All-American caliber defensive play to utilize him offensively? Or do the Bruins risk using him as a two-way player? The decision would be easier if Jack wasn't so good at both positions.

"I don't think I've ever had a defensive guy come over that could have that much of an impact on a football game," said offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. "Not a guy that every down could have an impact on the game."

The case for Myles Jack the linebacker

He can play inside and outside, he can rush the passer and drop back into pass coverage. Jack was good enough to take the attention away from his onetime Heisman hopeful teammate at the same position, Anthony Barr. His instincts, his speed and the bone-crushing hits caught the attention of opposing offenses early in the season -- including his own offense.

"Every practice during the summer I would say, 'Myles Jack is something different,'" said wide receiver Devin Lucien. "When everyone is cheering (now), I'm like, 'I've known this.'"

Last week against Washington, Aaron Wallace took Jack's spot on a few defensive downs. The Bruins have considerable depth at linebacker, but with two crucial games left, it's difficult to justify taking out one that is one of the best in the country.

He would argue that it's his natural position. He turned down several high-profile teams to play linebacker in the Pac-12. Linebacker is what Jack is good at and what he likes to play.

"I like linebacker way better," Jack said. "You get to hit people in coverage. I just like defense overall, protecting the goal line and everything. Offense, you got people hitting you at different angles and twisting you up and stuff and you've got to protect the ball, people trying to take the ball from you."

The case for Myles Jack the running back

The Bruins' instability at the position hasn't been magnified during some of the most crucial games. The injuries to the tailbacks in offense that's oriented around a speedy feature back have been well-documented. Hundley has been the team's leading rusher this season and while the speedy dual-threat is more than capable of making plays with his legs, it can be a burden.

But Jack is the perfect explosive, physical, short-yardage back the offense has been lacking. And that same speed he's showcased on defense was also on full display in his first game carrying the ball when he stiff-armed an Arizona defender for a 66-yard touchdown.

"I probably won't be the leading rusher for long with him back there," Hundley said. "He's a switch up for our offense and surely with the power he brings, I think it really helps this offense and really adds depth and something dynamic to this offense.

"Now, when it's third-and-three, instead of just straight throwing the ball you give it to Myles and just let him do what he does best and that’s get the first downs and the touchdowns."

The risk of playing him as a two-way player is obvious. Jack appeared to be shaken up after a particularly hard hit on the defensive side of the ball late in Friday's game. He says he feels no extra fatigue but it's difficult to say where UCLA would be at right now without Jack in the backfield the last two games.

The case for Myles Jack the two-way player

It may not be the popular choice but for now, the Bruins will continue to utilize him at both positions.

"Whatever the team needs," Jack said. "It's not my choice, it's what the coaches say. If they feel like that's the best route for the team then that’s what I’m going to do."

The packages he runs offensively are still elementary and somewhat simplistic. Head coach Jim Mora and Mazzone don't want to overwhelm him with the entire running game section of the playbook and most importantly, he hasn't yet learned how to protect the football properly and protect himself with it.

Run blocking it isn't anything he can learn in practice, especially this late in the season -- it's an on-the-job-only type of skill.

"He can't," Mora said. "So we don't even try."

Until further notice, Jack will continue to play on the both sides of the ball.

"It's stupid, it's really not fair," Lucien said. "Shaq (Evans) would get pissed off at me. 'Devin, stop saying that.' But no, he's that good ... After Arizona, Shaq got on his knees and yelled, 'He’s the best player ever!'

"It's crazy. He's the best player in the world."

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