Starters Lost: Chris Henry
Others Returning: Terry Longbons, Xavier Smith
Others Lost: none
Newcomers: Glyndon Bolasky (redshirt), Joseph Reese, Nicholas Grigsby
The Wildcats took an unexpected hit to their running back corps when junior Chris Henry declared for the NFL draft. Henry came on strong at the end of the year and led the team in rushing. A non factor for most of the season, he came on strong in the Washington State game and had the best game of his brief career when he rushed for 191 yards and two scores.
All told he gained 581 yards and scored seven rushing touchdowns. He also added 197 receiving yards and another score.
The Cats took another hit when running backs coach Kasey Dunn left to coach receivers and special teams at Baylor.
The Cats do return some experienced players, most notably senior-to-be Chris Jennings and Xavier Smith. Although neither got a huge audition a year ago, head coach Mike Stoops likes what he sees from the pair.
"I feel we have two premier backs right now," Stoops said.
Jennings, a walk-on junior college transfer, rushed for 451 yards and three scores and also proved to be a reliable receiver out of the backfield. He won the starting job for the Stephen F. Austin game and held the job until the bye week.
With his good speed and good hands, he could fit in well within the new spread offense. Jennings is strong enough to block and shifty enough that he should be able to find running room between the wide splits of the offensive line.
"Chris Jennings is a very qualified player," Stoops noted.
Jennings recently received a scholarship for his efforts last season. Xavier Smith averaged over five yards a carry last year but is really still a mystery. He has been the talk of practice the past two years, but missed blocking assignments and some key drops early in the season made him mostly a non-factor.
"I think Xavier is a big time running back who is maturing and needs the chance to play," Stoops said. Smith has the skills to be an effective back in the offense. He has good speed, can run between the tackles and is dangerous in the open field. He should get a great opportunity to earn carries this spring.
Earl Mitchell is more of a pure fullback, but could excel in the spread as well. His blocking skills will be needed and he is also a very reliable receiver out of the backfield. Both Hawaii and BYU employ bigger backs out of their versions of the spread and it is easy to envision Mitchell being used in similar ways.
Terry Longbons has yet to make an impact since coming to Arizona. He has battled injuries and personal tragedies and did not have a carry this season. Longbons came in as a very well regarded recruit, but has not been fully healthy since his junior season in high school. Longbons is a north/south runner, with a burst. He has been cross trained at fullback, so he may be able to do double duty.
Glyndon Bolasky was having a very nice fall camp and was one of the more pleasant surprises heading into the season. He was always slated for a redshirt season but a knee injury cemented it. If the knee rebounds he could be yet another player who factors into things.
Joseph Reese, brother of Wildcat freshman Terrell Reese, is a well regarded freshman who may be able to come in and try to play right away. Fellow freshman Nicholas Grigsby is another incoming freshman who might be able to come in and get some playing time right away.