Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA Football: Damien Thigpen Returns from Injury to Play Utah

Last season, UCLA running back Damien Thigpen performed well enough to make him the midseason frontrunner to replace Johnathan Franklin when the Bruins’ all-time leading rusher finished up his final season of eligibility. Clocked as the fastest player on the team, Thigpen ran for 262 yards off of just 50 carries in 2012.

Sadly, Thigpen suffered a major ACL injury that would end his season and entirely hinder any chance of developing over the offseason. We’re in week four of the college football season and Thigpen has yet to see the field.

The good news? Thigpen’s getting healthy and, by week five, we’ll get to see Thigpen in Bruin blue against the Utah Utes when UCLA travels to Salt Lake City.

Of course, his entry comes at an awkward time. Starting running back Jordon James has established himself as one of the best running backs in the Pac-12. With all the uncertainty surrounding UCLA’s running back situation over the offseason, James has single-handedly silenced the critics by producing three straight 100-yard performances, including a tough 105-yard performance against Nebraska in Lincoln a couple of weeks back.

Meaning Thigpen’s no longer the starting running back, and even worse, he has some serious catching up to do. Aside from Jordon James bordering dominance in the run game, Steven Manfro, Paul Perkins and even Malcolm Jones have stepped on the field and have made pretty immediate impacts. The offensive line deserves much of the credit, mind you, but the establishment of UCLA’s top four running backs will make it hard for a running back coming off a major leg injury to break into the rotation.

UCLA fans will be rooting for the kid, though, because his injury came at a pretty awful time (although there’s no good time to go down with an injury). Had he stayed healthy for three more games, he’d be the Bruins’ top running back option most likely.

We’ll see how he develops and, hopefully, he’ll get his fair share of touches (and does something with them).

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