LOS ANGELES — UCLA football has been practicing for three weeks and the biggest burning question has finally been answered: Myles Jack is still a linebacker – not a running back.
The 2013 Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year has a pretty firm grasp on new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich’s playbook and according to head coach Jim Mora, has refined his skills at linebacker.
So why not throw him in the backfield?
Because he doesn’t really want to play running back.
"That’s definitely my decision," Jack said. "The running back thing, it just kind of happened, I just kind of fell into that and it worked to a charm. The offensive line and just me finding holes, but that just kind of happened. I was recruited here to play linebacker and that’s what I’m here to do and that’s my job. The running backs, they play running back and that’s their job."
Jack has always been a talented rusher. He was recruited to several SEC schools to play running back but he wanted to play linebacker and Mora was going to let him play whatever it was that he wanted to play. And he insists he’s going to play linebacker.
"It’s definitely a trendy topic right now when people see me," Jack said. "People will be like, ‘What’s the deal?’"
Even new running back coach Kennedy Polamalu has tried to pull him over to the other side of the ball, luring him with one of his childhood idols in Maurice Jones-Drew, who Polamalu said may be watching on the sidelines of the spring game this upcoming weekend. If Jones-Drew says Jack should play running back, he might have to consider it. But otherwise, he just laughs it off.
"Coach Polamalu, trust me, he is on it. Even Coach Mora tells him to stop," Jack said. "I just laugh because he thinks so highly of me as a running back."
What Jack seems to be missing is the fact that everyone thinks highly of him as a running back. He’ll tell you that he can run if he finds a hole and that Hundley will simply tell him to run left or right after he hands it off. Jack will say that he can’t pass rush and he doesn’t like getting hit.
"Guys coming in full speed trying to hit you and you don’t see them," Jack said. "I’d just rather do the hitting."
But that doesn’t mean that he won’t see snaps in the backfield.
"He’s a package player on offense and we’re not going to put those packages in until the season starts," Mora said. "He’s not going to take a snap on offense in training camp either. He won’t take a snap on offense until we get to game weeks. It’s more important that he fully come to grasp that linebacker position."
It’s difficult to ignore a 20.5 yards-per-carry average. Only a part-time running back, he rewrote some of the full-time offensive record books.
But it’s also difficult to ignore his 75 tackles.
"I wouldn’t have started him at running back against Arizona State, I would have let him stay on defense. Even though we were down numbers at running back I would have put him at defense. That was a poor decision on my part and I wish I had that one back. Because they went up and down the field on us. I think if he’d of been in there, we could have at least made it a little more difficult," Mora said.
Come fall, that ultra-effective jumbo package is likely to be pulled out of the arsenal. But Saturday at the StubHub Center, Jack will play only one position: Linebacker.
"If they need me, if something happens this year where I have to fill in, something happens where I have to get in, then I’ll definitely do it," Jack said.