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RUNNING GAME IS A-BRUIN MARQUEE NAME MARKEY READY TO TAKE REINS AS UCLA'S MAIN RUNNING BACK.

Byline: BRIAN DOHN Staff Writer

When Maurice Drew left a year early for the NFL, UCLA was left without its biggest game breaker, its leading rusher the past three seasons, and a marquee tailback.

Drew's decision also placed the running game on the shoulders of a Markey runner.

Chris Markey, to be exact.

Markey, a junior, doesn't have Drew's game-changing speed, but he does possess traits that should make UCLA's running game, which is mostly tackle-to-tackle, more consistent than when Drew was the featured back.

``(Markey) was the best running back last year,'' Bruins offensive lineman Shannon Tevaga said. ``Maurice was the best overall player. (Markey) knows when to go downhill, he knows when to jump outside. His vision is out there. He can see the line clearly.''

Drew broke big runs and was always a threat to score, be it from 8 or 80 yards away. But many of his big plays last season came on special teams. When it came to runs from the line of scrimmage, it seemed for every 15-yard run, there was a 1-yard run in which Drew freelanced, or gave up on the play early.

It was commonplace for then-Bruins running back coach Eric Bieniemy to constantly drill Drew during practice for always searching for the big run, rather than show patience and follow the planned direction of the play.

Markey brings the opposite mentality. A 5-foot-11, 210-pounder from the New Orleans suburb of Luling, La., Markey's trademark running style is filled with quick hip wiggles as he slashes through the hole, and oozes patience to allow his blockers to get in front of him and allow the play to form.

``I think when you think of Chris, he's more a pro-style running back,'' Bruins fullback Michael Pitre said. ``Maurice is a very, very big home run player, but sometimes that got to him, and because of his success, he was always kind of looking for the home run. He always knew he had the ability to take a play from nothing to something.

``Whereas Chris, he's a lot more patient runner, and he allows stuff to develop. I think he's doing a good job of feeling the offense, feeling if the defense is over scraping.''

The one thing missing from Markey's game is speed, but his shiftiness and vision should enable him to get his share of 12- to 15-yard gains.

``I'm sure people will be questioning the running game because Maurice left,'' said Markey, who ran for 561 yards and three touchdowns last season. ``I'm not the fastest person, but I feel I can take it to the house. That's not a worry for me. I'm more than comfortable knowing I can pick up the yards when we need it.''

Last season, Markey averaged 5.1 yards per carry and lost a total of 19 yards on 110 carries. Drew averaged 4.9 yards per carry, and lost 47 yards on 186 attempts.

``I do know (Markey) has great sense and he sees things very, very well,'' UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said. ``He's very efficient that way.''

Dorrell said he needed ``consistency'' from Markey, and history suggests Markey is up to the challenge.

In two of UCLA's biggest games under Dorrell, Markey filled in for an injured Drew and excelled.

Against Oregon on the road, and with Drew out with a sprained ankle, Markey, then a freshman, rushed for 131 yards, and led the Bruins with five catches for 84 yards in a 34-26 win. It was UCLA's most substantial road win under Dorrell, and made the Bruins bowl eligible.

When Drew was injured early in last December's Sun Bowl, Markey filled in with a career-high 161 yards and was named the game's co-MVP.

``He has to take on the role as the experienced guy, in terms of reading where the plays are and taking what the play gives you in the run game,'' Dorrell said. ``We're asking for consistency. He's our most experienced back, and this offense suits him in terms of the run game. He's the leader of that area.''

Markey is also considered a better pass-catcher than Drew, but again, he doesn't have the dynamic speed that enabled Drew to turn simple screen passes into 40-yard gains.

``Maurice is a great player, and it's hard to look at what other people bring to the table when you have such a great player in front of you,'' Markey said. ``I'm looking to have a lot of success in the passing game. When the quarterbacks can't find a receiver, I want them to dump it off to me.''

brian.dohn@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3607

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) With Maurice Drew off to the NFL, UCLA will rely mainly on Chris Markey (above) to get its running game going.

Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer

(2) Chris Markey rushed 110 times for 561 yards and scored three touchdowns as a sophomore last season for UCLA.

Evan Yee/Staff Photographer

Box:

CAN MARKEY MEASURE UP?
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 15, 2006
Words:835
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