Football tries to replace Ka'Deem Carey
The loss of a running back of Ka’Deem Carey’s magnitude would normally debilitate an offense and force players to assume roles they usually wouldn’t. However, Arizona has found evident depth at offensive skill positions that could offset the loss.
Having one player replace Carey — a two-time consensus All-American — is doubtful. But during spring practice, Arizona coaches are experimenting with sliding wide receivers into the backfield or dividing the carries among the remaining running backs.
The Wildcats currently have six running backs on their roster and four-star signee Nick Wilson will be joining in the fall. Highlighting the returnees are redshirt junior Jared Baker and redshirt freshman Zach Green.
“It’s early, but they have a pretty good grasp,” UA head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “We’re not slowing down; it’s just the way we do things. We think it’s better off to learn at our pace from the start. … I’ve been impressed so far that there hasn’t been too many missed assignments.”
Even though Baker is the leading returning rusher, he is recovering from an ACL tear suffered in the final regular season game last season against ASU.
Despite not having played a snap in an Arizona uniform, Green said his goal is to be the starting running back come the regular season opener on Aug. 29.
“My goal is definitely to get the starting [running back] job and compete as hard as I can during spring,” he said. “Spring ball is probably the most important thing because that’s when the coaches get to see you.”
However, with inexperienced running backs on the roster, Arizona could employ some of the speedy wide receivers in the backfield in a Percy Harvin-type role.
Harvin is among the fastest wide receivers in the NFL and showed tremendous versatility and athleticism out wide, in the slot and in the backfield during his college days at Florida.
Getting a Harvin-type talent is almost impossible, but Rodriguez has a more-than-serviceable athlete in redshirt sophomore DaVonte’ Neal who can do some of the same things Harvin can. In terms of physical measurements, Neal is 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, while Harvin is 5-foot-11 and 184 pounds.
“Percy Harvin was a great athlete in college, and they had him running the ball and catching the ball,” Neal said. “I feel like I can elevate my game to the same extent, because I have the speed and coach Rodriguez is going to put me into the positions to do so.”
As a receiver out of the backfield, Neal has the catching ability, like Harvin, to provide a speed option on the edge of the field, opening up the field for big plays.
As a running back, Neal is shifty enough to attack gaps and gain yards behind the noticeably bigger offensive lineman.
Handing the starting running back position off to a single replacement isn’t easy, or a likely possibility. However, a running back by committee is more versatile. With spring camp quickly approaching, it’s clear no single running back or receiver is expected to fill Carey’s shoes. Luckily for Rodriguez, the shoes are big enough to fit a group of players.
—Follow Roberto Payne @HouseOfPayne555