UCLA has to replace running back Joshua Kelley, who went from walk-on transfer to back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and is in the NFL with the Los Angeles Chargers.
But there are plenty of places to turn, and the Bruins’ wealth of backs could pay more dividends than relying heavily on any particular one.
However, the Bruins do have a solid redshirt senior penciled in with Demetric Felton, a receiver turned running back who had a solid season in a back-up role in 2019. Felton set a Bruins record for receptions from a running back with 55, and expect his dual-threat role to continue.
Here’s a breakdown of where UCLA stands at running back going into Saturday’s 4 p.m. season opener at Colorado:
Key returnees: Demetric Felton (R-Sr.); Martell Irby (Jr.), Kazmeir Allen (R-So.), Keegan Jones (R-Fr.), Christian Grubb (R-Fr.), Cole Kinder (R-Jr.)
Key losses: Joshua Kelley (Sr.)
Newcomers: Brittain Brown (grad transfer), Brian Kowall (Fr.)
Biggest unanswered question: Can you replace Kelley, who last season rushed for 1,060 yards and 12 touchdowns to go with 11 catches for 240 yards? The Bruins expect the bulk of it will come from Felton, who switched to running back last year and had 331 yards rushing and 55 receptions for 594 yards. Brown, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound Duke grad transfer, is expected to be the thunder to Felton’s lightning. How they complement each other and share the load will go a long way.
Why 2020 production could be better: Because it will be hard to predict what the Bruins will do. Felton, out of Great Oak High in Temecula, can run and catch. Brown is better on short yardage, and then you mix in Allen, Irby and Phillips to coach Chip Kelly’s toolbox along with a fleet quarterback like Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who also will get his share of yards. This could be the most firepower Kelly has had to work with since he arrived in Westwood.
Why 2020 production could be worse: Kelley was pretty much a sure thing, as evidenced by his 2,303 yards rushing in two seasons. There are no sure things in the Bruins’ backfield and no telling if the Bruins’ offensive line will be good enough to let its backfield thrive. Nobody knows how well Felton will do in a primary role as opposed to a backup role. And can Brown, who was injured often at Duke, stay healthy?