The Arizona Wildcats' offense has the potential to be deadly once again and in 2011 it will depend greatly on the quarterback and receiver play. But if UA wants to compete with the big boys of college football, the production from the running back position will certainly require improvement.
With the departure of Nic Grigsby and the season-ending injury to bruiser Greg Nwoko, the Wildcats are left with one running back that has significant experience at the position – Keola Antolin.
Antolin will be the number one back this season. Through three very productive seasons spent mostly as a backup, Antolin has totaled 1831 yards and 21 touchdowns. He has done it mostly while splitting reps with Grigsby and Nwoko and usually makes the most of his opportunities.
The soon-to-be senior will be tested more this year as the primary back. With a very inexperienced and young offensive line paving the way, Antolin's senior year should be very telling in just how ready he is to be the primary running back in Arizona's offense.
With Nwoko's injury, Daniel Jenkins becomes Antolin's main backup. Jenkins only rushed the ball eight times for 26 yards as a redshirt freshman last season, but looked much more comfortable in the system this past spring. Jenkins' ability to catch the ball out of the backfield could also benefit him in terms of playing time as the Wildcats' offense tends to fit Jenkins' style of play very well.
Another player in the mix is Kylan Butler. The product from De La Salle only carried the ball twice for 12 yards, but is another player with the talent to make plays in the Wildcats' offense. He will have a battle in his hands when it comes to playing time, but given the departure of Grigsby and the loss of Nwoko, Butler should see more of the field in 2011.
Look for true freshman Ka'Deem Carey to make a push for serious playing time when he arrives on campus. He already is in good enough shape to play football at the Pac-12 level and if he picks up the offense quickly, he could leapfrog some of the players ahead of him. The local product from Canyon Del Oro put up ridiculous numbers in high school and is one of the greatest high school football players in Tucson history.
Look for another true freshman – Jared Baker – to get a fair chance to crack the rotation as well. The product from Loyola High School in Los Angeles combined for over 2,500 yards rushing on the ground in his junior and senior campaigns and his frame is similar to the players in front of him. He will be given a shot at playing time if he outperforms others in fall camp.
Arizona is going to need its backs to improve their production from a season ago if the Wildcats want to improve from their 7-6 record. That certainly won't be easy with two of the team's main contributors from a season ago off the table, but there are players waiting in the wings that have more than enough talent to make up for the players that aren't there.
It shouldn't be regarded as a weakness, but the running back position will certainly have a lot of eyes on it in the upcoming season.
Evaluating the Roster: Running back
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