Injuries to RBs only thorn in side of UCLA

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES – The UCLA Bruins made more of an effort this summer than in the past to get through their rigorous preseason healthy, and except for one position, they did.

The problem is, that one position — tailback — is awfully important to a football team.

“We’ve had kind of a different two-a-days,” UCLA coach Terry Donahue said yesterday, five days before the 14th-ranked Bruins open the 1994 season against No. 13 Tennessee at the Rose Bowl. “We took great pains to not bang our players up. I think for the most part, we accomplished that.

“I think we’ve had some cruddy luck in terms of the running backs. Hopefully, that’s behind us. The good news is, basically other than the backs, we came out healthy. We are not as complete or as settled as I’d like to be at this time because of the backs. That could change this week.”

Sophomore Sharmon Shah is listed as UCLA’s starting tailback and James Milliner is listed as the starting fullback.

Milliner, the Bruins’ third-leading rusher last season with 366 yards on 57 carries, has recovered from a hyper-extended elbow, but Shah, who gained 260 yards on 64 carries, has been bothered by a swollen knee.

In addition, backups Daron Washington (bruised back) and Derek Ayers (stretched knee ligament) have been banged up. Ayers probably won’t be recovered in time to play against Tennessee, Donahue said.

“I’d say if there’s not a significant change in Sharmon Shah’s condition, we’ll start Milliner at fullback and Daron Washington at tailback,” Donahue said. “Everybody else is basically ready to go.”

Donahue guessed that Shah will either play or undergo surgery in the near future.

“It’ll be one of those two things, I think it’s going to be that dramatic,” Donahue said. “The swelling has dissipated, right now he doesn’t have the swelling or the discomfort.”

But, Donahue added, that could change in practice or in games.

UCLA returns six starters on offense, five on defense and both kickers from last year’s team, which went 8-4 including a 21-16 loss to Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

In addition, 12 other players who have made at least one start are on the squad.

In Wayne Cook and J.J. Stokes, the Bruins fielded one of the most effective quarterback-receiver tandems in the country last year. Cook completed 165 of 297 passes for 2,067 yards and 18 touchdowns with only four interceptions.

Stokes, who is being touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate this season, had 82 receptions for 1,181 yards and 17 TDs.

“When your [starting] quarterback returns, I think that lends itself to stability and lends itself to being settled, if you will,” Donahue said. “Our team’s worked hard, it’ll be interesting to see how we stack up against the caliber of teams we’ll play.

“We’ll have a good indication of what kind of team we’ll be real early in the season.”

The Bruins play home games against Tennessee and Southern Methodist before facing No. 4 Nebraska at Lincoln, Neb., on Sept. 17. Their remaining eight games are against Pacific-10 Conference opponents.

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