The rushing attack was one of the biggest inconsistencies for the Arizona Wildcats in 2011. UA could never establish the ground game on a consistent basis and it really struggled to hold on to the ball for long periods of time because of it.
That's expected to change under new head coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff. With a history of providing a strong running game, Rodriguez has already made the run a huge focus in the spring practice sessions.
It's not like the talent is non-existent. There are several players that possess plenty of talent to have a very strong season in the new scheme. It should all start with Ka'Deem Carey. As a freshman in 2011, Carey rushed for 425 yards and six touchdowns in limited touches. Carey saw the field less than most fans would have liked, but in a system that heavily involves the run option, he should see his touches increase significantly in 2012.
Carey is deadly in space and this system should permit him to get just that. If he continues to grasp the new staff's philosophy, expect Carey to have a much stronger season than what he had in 2011.
Daniel Jenkins is another player to keep an eye on. Jenkins played sparingly in 2011 but led the team in yards per carry with 5.7. The offense seems to be a perfect fit for Jenkins and if he continues to learn the new system effectively, the combo of him and Carey could develop into one of the better 1-2 punches in the conference.
Shifty Kylan Butler has the typical size of a Rodriguez running back and could be a sleeper among backs on the roster. Butler is a player that can squeeze in between the tackles and has the kind of power that makes him tough to bring down initially. Like Carey and Jenkins, Butler has thrived in the spring and could push for playing time if he continues to impress.
While the new offense is typically known for its smaller backs, there could be a role for Greg Nwoko. Returning from an ACL injury, Nwoko may ultimately be relied on as a change-of-pace back and could be useful in goal-line situations. Nwoko's speed is what's important for him. If he can regain what he had previous to the injury, he may force his way into a role.
After redshirting his first season, Jared Baker looks to turn heads and make an impact. He is similar to Jenkins and Butler in terms of size and with at least three running backs ahead of him, it will be difficult for Baker to crack the rotation. Don't count him out, however, as he seems to be improving as he grasps more of the new system.
Also look for H-Back Taimi Tutogi to be used as a running back from time to time. Tutogi possesses a strong combination of athleticism and speed and could be a tough weapon for the opposition to stop in the new scheme. He is not the prototypical back Rodriguez tends to covet, but his presence on the roster and what he provides to the offense may be too valuable to keep off the field.
There is a pair of commits from the 2012 class that could make an impact at some point down the road, but their chances of cracking the rotation early are slim.
Anthony Lopez from Mesquite Gilbert is an athletic back who is a solid fit for the scheme UA runs, but given the talent in front of him, it will most likely be a while before he touches the field. There is chance that, given the depth and talent already at the position, Lopez could be used in another area.
J.T. Washington from Satellite Beach (FL) was a below-the-radar recruit, but is the exact type of back Rodriguez covets on nearly an annual basis. Small, shifty and fast, Washington could develop into one of the surprises of the 2012 class given how well running backs of his build and athleticism do in Rodriguez's system.
As long as Rodriguez is at Arizona, the team will implement an offense that is run-friendly. It will continue to be one of the most sought after positions each offseason and there will likely be a plethora of talent on the roster each year. Rodriguez enters a program with plenty of talent at the position and if everyone continues to buy in, the rushing attack could go from stagnant to deadly in just one season.
State of the Roster: Running back
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