LOS ANGELES — UCLA inside linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. could be heard barking at the running backs at practice Friday morning during a pass blocking drill with his linebacker unit.
Every time a linebacker broke through a running back in pass protection, Norton Jr. let his excitement be heard.
While several of the linebackers were able to make their way past the running backs using their speed or a bull rush technique, running back Anthony Adkins was holding his own, denying his competitor easy access to the ball thrower.
Adkins, one of the bigger backs on the roster, is listed at 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds.
“Anything I can do to help the team, I’m going to do,” Adkins said. “If that’s on the goal line, if that’s pass protection, if that’s running on first-and-10, anything I can do to help the team. If it’s pass pro like we showed today, I’ll be happy to do it.”
The redshirt junior is a transfer from Army West Point, having rushed for 693 yards and 10 touchdowns on 136 carries from 2019-21.
Adkins did not play in 2022 while in the transfer portal, but is looking to make his presence felt this season. That includes catching more passes out of the backfield, a skill he wasn’t able to showcase at Army because of the Black Knights’ triple option offense.
“Earlier in high school, I played receiver, tight end sometimes, so I’ve always been able to catch a little,” the redshirt junior said. “But going to Army, that wasn’t something we really did. So coming out here, going back in the bag a little bit.”
Despite sitting out an entire season, Adkins said he was able to remain in football shape and it took him about three days to shake off the rust at spring football practice.
The hardest part was learning a new system and adjusting to the speed of the game, a distinct difference compared with the playing style at Army.
“Physically I was there, it was more of the mental side of things,” he said. “The biggest learning curve is the speed of the game. Triple option is relatively slow sometimes. Coming out here to a spread offense is probably the biggest difference, the speed of things.”
Adkins adds a lot of size to a loaded running back room that features Ball State transfer Carson Steele, sophomore T.J. Harden and senior Colson Yankoff.
Yankoff, a converted wide receiver going into his second year at the running back spot, noted that each running back brings a different set of skills to the table that will help the team succeed.
When it comes to Adkins, he can do a little bit of everything.
“He’s a big dude and can move. That was the first thing when he showed up I was like, ‘Damn, this guy is really big and can he do this,’” Yankoff said. “That guy can really move, he can run the rock, and nobody wants to get in his way. He’s been really fun to watch.”
Ty Lee turning heads
True freshman Ty Lee has been making explosive plays on the defensive side of the ball throughout fall camp. In Friday’s practice, Lee rushed through running back Jack Pedersen during a pass protection drill to the loud “oohhs” of his teammates.
The St. John Bosco alum played safety in high school, but head coach Chip Kelly envisions him as an ultra-athletic linebacker who could flourish against spread offenses.
“When you look at the more people who have spread offenses, to really have those athletic linebackers on the field, and we feel like we have a few right now. We think that’s where he may eventually end up,” Kelly said. “He’s one guy as a young true freshman in this class right now that has kind of stood out on the defensive side of the ball.”
The Bruins are scheduled to practice Sunday morning, hoping to finish just in time before Hurricane Hilary is predicted to hit the Los Angeles area as a tropical storm. The team is off Monday when the heaviest rainfall is expected to occur.
“When we made this schedule in April, we knew that Monday the storm was going to hit,” Kelly said jokingly.
If the Bruins do find themselves caught in the rain, practicing in inclement weather could provide an unexpected advantage down the line.
“You have to handle adversity at some point in time, especially on the road. We got to play up in Oregon this year and you never know what the weather is going to be like up there,” Kelly said. “If it rains, we practice, that’s not an issue. The only issue that ever occurs from a weather standpoint here would be lightning because we’re not going to practice in lightning.”