Committee of running backs looks to replace Ka'Deem Carey
Arizona redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon (12) hands off the ball to Arizona redshirt senior running back Terris Jones-Grigsby (24) during football practice on Aug. 2 at Arizona Stadium. Jones-Grigsby is among a handful of running backs looking to become the starter.
Several running backs are trying to fill the void left by Arizona football all-time leading rusher Ka’Deem Carey’s early departure for the NFL.
Carey scored 20 touchdowns and rushed for 1,885 yards last season, despite missing the season opener against FCS opponent NAU. The Wildcats not only lost Carey, but also backup running back Daniel Jenkins, who ran for 411 yards.
The 2014 crop of running backs have impressed the coaches, though.
“I love the way the guys are working,” said Calvin Magee, associate head coach, co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach. “They focus and they concentrate, and they try to improve every day and that’s all you can ask for.”
Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said he has been impressed with redshirt senior Adonis Smith, freshman Jonathan Haden, freshman Nick Wilson, redshirt senior Terris Jones-Grigsby, redshirt junior Jared Baker and redshirt freshman Zach Green.
“We don’t have a Ka’Deem, which everybody knows, but we got a lot of bodies there and I think we’re going to be good,” Rodriguez said.
Smith, who has also played for Northwestern and UNLV, and Jones-Grigsby are the oldest running backs as fifth-year seniors.
“I’m the veteran, so they’re going to expect that from me, but now I’m just trying to take it day-by-day,” Jones-Grigsby said. “I know I’ve got big shoes to fill in [for] Ka’Deem, so I’m just ready to take on that role.”
Jones-Grigsby is the younger brother of former UA star running back Nic Grigsby.
“Terris is solid, Terris just does everything solid,” Magee said. “He’s a good example for the young kids that are watching him.”
Speaking of younger players, Magee said he’s been impressed with the freshmen running backs, like Wilson and Haden.
“That’s been very exciting to watch,” he said. “They kind of are what we thought they were coming in, so to get them out here and get them flying around is good. They’re learning pretty quick and making some plays so it’s exciting to see.”
Magee said the offense is tough to learn because of its fast pace and it’s hard for freshmen to learn pass protection.
Freshmen and other newcomers are not available for comment until media day next week.
Magee said Wilson is a complete back and is learning everything right now.
“He’s big-eyed right now,” Magee said. “He’s trying to learn and really absorbing everything, but he’s a strong runner with some good quickness and some decent speed. But he’s a puppy and has a lot to learn. He and Haden are both doing extremely well.”
Baker is the only returning back that ran the ball last year, carrying it 27 times for 130 yards. Baker returned nine kick offs for 210 yards and his long of 34 tied for the team high.
Baker tore his ACL on a kick return at ASU last year but coaches said he had recovered.
“I’m very pleased with Baker,” Magee said. “I’m very pleased with his efforts and he looks really sharp doing what he’s doing and he’s a veteran. He knows the offense.”
Green said camp has gone well so far.
“We have a great group of quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs and we all have our different running styles and everything,” Green said. “We have a great group and we’re all friends, so we’re all batting for the same position.”
Jones-Grigsby and Green said they learned a lot from Carey, who the Chicago Bears drafted in the fourth round. Carey owns or shares 26 school records.
“Ka’Deem’s a really strong runner and he doesn’t go down on the first hit,” Green said. “All I did last year was sit back and watch him play and just try to mimic him as much as I can on the field.”
Magee said this year’s camp is actually more fun than last year when they had Carey and Jenkins.
“We get to groom them and teach them,” he said. “You did that before, but now you really get to see some guys develop as youngsters and that’s fun to watch.”
—Follow James Kelley @JamesKelley520