Football Guide: Who can replace Ka'deem Carey?
Arizona redshirt junior running back Jared Baker (23) runs up the field during practice on Aug. 19 at Sancet Field.
“It takes a village to raise a child” is an old proverb, and it looks like it will take a committee to replace Ka’Deem Carey.
Seven months after Carey left school early for the NFL Draft, he still looms large over his hometown team.
“He was one of the best in the country and not only was he a good player, he was so durable,” UA head coach Rich Rodriguez said about Carey. “I mean he’d carry it 40 times a game and run it just as hard on his 40th carry as his first carry and then he’d be able to go the next week, too.”
Carey owns or shares 26 school records, including career rushing yards, single-season rushing yards, touchdowns, single game rushing yards and most carries in one game with 48.
“We’ll do it by committee, we won’t have one guy get 1,900 yards rushing, but we have some talent there,” Rodriguez said.
The coaches said they are impressed with the current crop of running backs.
“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.”
The Wildcats also lost Carey’s backup, running back Daniel Jenkins, who ran for 411 yards and quarterback B.J. Denker, who ran for 949 yards.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon said there is more pressure on the quarterbacks to produce with Carey gone.
“Of course, we lost pretty much our running offense but with the receiving corps we have,” Solomon said. “That just kinda replaces that and the young running backs we have, they can be better but they could be as good as Ka’Deem as well.”
Carey scored 20 touchdowns and rushed for 1,885 yards in 2013, despite missing the season opener against FCS opponent NAU.
“It’s gonna be very hard,” said freshman running back Jonathan Haden about replacing Carey. “He was one of the best running backs in the nation last year so hopefully, collectively as a group, we can find one person, or two people or three that can get the job done.”
Fifth-year senior Terris Jones-Grigsby is listed as the starter at running back for the UNLV game, with fifth-year senior Adonis Smith and freshman Nick Wilson behind him on the depth chart.
“We know we got big shoes to fill in for Ka’Deem and we’re all ready to take on that role,” Jones-Grigsby said. “We take it day by day.”
Jones-Grigsby is the brother of former UA star Nic Grigsby, who played at Arizona from 2007 to 2010 and rushed for 2,957 yards, averaging 5.2 yards a carry.
“Terris is solid, Terris just does everything solid,” Magee said. “He’s a good example for the young kids that are watching him.”
Rodriguez said Haden will play as a freshman and, in addition to tailback, has seen time at slot receiver. Three of Haden’s brothers played FBS college football and his sibling Joe Haden is an All-Pro cornerback for the Cleveland Browns.
Magee said the freshmen running backs like Wilson and Haden have impressed him.
“That’s been very exciting to watch,” Magee said. “They’re learning pretty quick and making some plays so it’s exciting to see.”
Wilson said that they are all pushing and learning from each other.
“Me and Jonathan were talking the other day and he was saying he’s the real shifty, agile guy, and I’m kind of like the fast, one-cut power guy,” Wilson said. “He said we could really complement each other and I really think that’s true.”
Jared Baker is the only returning running back with a carry last year, rushing 27 times for 130 yards. Baker returned nine kickoffs for 210 yards and his long of 34 tied for the team high, but tore his ACL on a kick return at ASU.
“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.”
Jones-Grigsby and redshirt freshman Zach Green said they learned a lot from Carey.
“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.”
Wilson said he would have appreciated getting to learn from Carey.
“Personally, I kind of wanted Ka’Deem to stay so I could learn under his wing a little bit because our running styles are very similar,” Wilson said.
Haden said the backs help each other learn the offense “because we just want the best player to play.”
“We spend so much time in the film room, because we love the game so much we just want to learn, to do our best out there,” Haden said. “So like we stay after meetings to watch film and stuff and just learn the offense, so that we know that we’re doing the right thing and we can do 100 percent.”
Maybe working together, the 2014 running backs can fill the void left by Carey, who was drafted by the Chicago Bears with the No. 117 overall pick.
“We don’t have a Ka’Deem,” Rodriguez said, “which everybody knows, but we got a lot of bodies there, and I think we’re going to be good.”
—Follow James Kelley on Twitter @jameskelley520