UCLA Football: Is Pitt RB Transfer Rushel Shell a Difference Maker?

Lisa HornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterApril 17, 2013

Rushel Shell
Rushel ShellJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

Pittsburgh running back Rushel Shell has reportedly decided to transfer to UCLA. Both ESPN and the Los Angeles Times are reporting that the freshman will be taking his talents to Westwood, Calif. More from LA Times' reporter Chris Foster:

The 6-foot, 215-pound Shell gained 641 yards rushing as a freshman last season. He was considered one of the top running backs in the nation as a senior at Aliquippa (Pa.) Hopewell High, where he gained a Pennsylvania state record 9,078 yards.

Shell will sit out the 2013 season and have three years of eligibility remaining.

Shell reportedly had several schools on his list to which he would consider transferring, but two schools were not approved by Pittsburgh. More from the ESPN report: 

Last month, Pittsburgh announced that Shell was taking some time away from football to "work through some challenges."

Shell requested a release from his scholarship to Arizona State, Arizona, Cal and UCLA, but Pitt denied his request to transfer to Arizona State, where former Pitt coach Todd Graham is the coach, a source told ESPN. Shell also wasn't allowed to transfer to Arizona because former Pitt staffers coach there as well.

So assuming the reports are true and Shell will transfer to UCLA, this would be a huge addition for the Bruins. Johnathan Franklin is off to the NFL and his absence will be felt; the school's career rushing leader notched 1,734 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. 

UCLA is currently in the middle of spring practice and three running backs have had solid drills: Jordon James, Malcolm Jones and Paul Perkins. James has three career starts (215 yards), while Jones rushed for 10 yards last season before leaving school in the fall and returning this April. Perkins is a redshirt freshman and didn't see any action in the Bruins' games last season, but so far he has been very impressive in spring practice.

Steven Manfro will probably see more time in the slot since he's a very capable receiver and Damien Thigpen is rehabbing his knee—his return date is unknown but the coaches hope to see him 100 percent by fall camp. Thigpen brings a wealth of experience to the running back corps; the redshirt senior had three starts and 262 rushing yards in 2012 and saw action in 31 games over the past four years. 

Shell was the Panthers' second-leading rusher behind senior Ray Graham (1,072 yards). According to Foster, Shell "entered spring practice atop the depth chart at Pittsburgh but pulled himself from practice after suffering a leg injury March 22." 

A projected starter transferring? That's usually a huge bonus for the team on the receiving end of a transfer. And with the transformation of UCLA's offensive line, the running game should continue to be an important weapon of the Bruins' offense. While Shell won't be eligible to play this year, he'll still have a year to digest the playbook and life in La-La land. 

Perkins, Manfro and James will all be presumably competing for the starting spot at running back next season—with Shell in the mix, the battle should be more contested.

Having an experienced player on the field challenging the less-experienced players can only make every player work harder. And that's something that every coach wants to see. 

So do the fans.