The running back position is one that sees its fair of touches in Rich Rodriguez's offense. The Arizona head coach has been known to find a way to get his backfield involved in a multitude of ways and often does it in an unconventional method.
A player who could really benefit from the change in philosophy is running back Daniel Jenkins. After seeing the field sparingly in the past two campaigns, Jenkins has a chance to break out in a system that tends to highlight the athletic traits he possesses.
His production on the field was sporadic throughout the 2011 season, but that was mostly due to the lack of opportunity. Jenkins had a few quality outings, including the season ending performance against Louisiana-Lafayette with 48 yards on the ground in just five carries and an 81 yard kick-off return all the way down to the Lafayette two-yard line.
Jenkins will certainly get more of an opportunity to be productive under the new staff. Just how much he really produces depends on how well he can adapt to the new philosophy and system the staff has installed. Jenkins is very shifty and can run both inside and outside of the tackles. He isn't going to mow over many defenders with his power, but he has great field vision and is patient enough to allow his blocks to set up.
Jenkins is also a receiving threat out of the backfield. He only tallied a mere five receptions for 31 yards in 2011, but he has displayed good hands during practice going back to last offseason.
Rodriguez didn't utilize his running backs in the passing game as much at Michigan as he did at West Virginia, but back in his days as Mountaineers' head coach, he used Steve Slaton somewhat frequently as a pass-catcher. While Jenkins may not see the same level of production as a receiver that Slaton did under Rodriguez at WVU, his skill set gives Rodriguez that option if ever needed.
Where Jenkins will be needed – and utilized the most (obviously) – is as a rusher to help spell Ka'Deem Carey, but it's not really fair to call Jenkins a "backup"; not in Rodriguez's system anyway. In 2008 and 2009 at Michigan (before Denard Robinson shouldered the rushing load in 2010) Rodriguez gave five or more players 40 carries or more. It was the same story at West Virginia for many years.
Unless Rodriguez has a player on UA's roster like Robinson that can shoulder virtually the entire rushing load, expect to see several running backs receive ample opportunity, including Jenkins. There is plenty of talent he will have to battle for playing time, but experience is limited at running back throughout the depth chart. Assuming Jenkins can take from what he built last season and transition it to the new offense, he should prove to be one of the most productive players on the offensive side of the ball.
It's tough to place any sort of expectation on Jenkins, but given how he plays his game naturally, it would be a little surprising to see him fall short of success. He has the frame, the athleticism and intelligence to excel in Rodriguez's offense and if he puts it all together, Jenkins could combine with Carey to give Arizona one of the best 1-2 running back punches in the Pac-12.
Player profile: Daniel Jenkins
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