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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Run game thrives off versatility, options

With a bevy of choices at the running back position for the Arizona football team, head coach Mike Stoops is not feeling the need to set his running back depth chart in stone quite yet.

Coming into the season, it looked like Keola Antolin was set on taking the majority of carriers, but as the team started to develop throughout spring ball and preseason training camp, other options started to take shape.

“Our run game is going to be way better than last year,” Antolin said. “Different blocking schemes and stuff.”

With a restructuring of the run game in place, the Wildcats added freshmen four star recruit Ka’Deem Carey as well as returning sophomore Daniel Jenkins, both of whom create a much more dynamic backfield for the Arizona offense.

“He’s a versatile player, man,” said Antolin about Carey, who ran for 69 yards on eight carries in Saturday’s scrimmage. “He can juke, run people over; he’s an all-around back.”

For Carey, it’s been a tough transition but he’s confident that he and his teammates will be able to play at the level they have been come game time, and he plans on continuing working hard to see some action.

That could be a lot or a little behind Antolin and Jenkins on the depth chart, but Carey said he’s practicing to improve his blocking skills to be ready should his name be called. His running game, after all, seems to be college football ready.

“Whatever the coaches say,” he said. “The coaches know it best. If I’m ready to play, I’m ready to play.”

Frosh corner Johnson learning quickly

For Cortez Johnson, the UA was first and foremost a basketball school, but after Stoops invited him on a recruiting trip, the freshman from New Orleans found a perfect fit for himself in Tucson.

As a highly-touted cornerback from O. Perry Walker High School, Johnson, who received first team defensive all-state honors from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association his senior year, joins Trevin Wade and Robert Golden as a legitimate option for defensive coordinator Tim Kish’s secondary scheme.

As a product of The Big Easy, Johnson never had a lack of football exposure during his youth, and he said his experiences watching LSU is partly what drove him to Arizona.

“LSU, they’re a great school,” Johnson said, “but I felt like Arizona was better. When I came here, I felt like we were a family.”

That family dynamic is what sold him on Arizona, but his prominent role as a member of the defense wasn’t given to him overnight.

“I didn’t really have that confidence (when I arrived) because I was new to this,” Johnson said. “As the days go on, I get more and more confidence by Rob Golden and Trevin Wade teaching me a lot.”

His philosophy on maintaining and progressing is simple, but effective.

“Just be yourself, just play your game,” he said. “When Coach is looking at you, don’t do more than you can do. Just play your game and be the best you can be.”

As the Wildcats move closer and closer to regular season play, the coaches’ expectations start to get higher, but Johnson puts a lot of expectations on his own performance.

“Just to go hard,” said Johnson on what he hopes to see from himself. “(Just) be the best that I can be and perform on the field.”

Depth charts still murky, Salazar hops Zendejas

Closing in on needing a solidified depth chart, Stoops said there’s still a long ways to go to having a secure set of starters on offense, defense and special teams.

“I think we’re getting closer on both sides of the ball,” Stoops said. “Just trying to get 11 on both sides, 22, that’d be a bonus. We’re getting closer.”

The biggest question was who will win the placekicker battle. Last year’s starter, Alex Zendejas has struggled with consistency, allowing junior college transfer Jaime Salazar to slide into the starting spot. Salazar saw the first two kicks in Saturday’s spring game, but neither he nor Zendejas has separated themselves because of consistency issues.

“Right now, we’re still competing,” Stoops said. “Jaime moved ahead of Alex right now, but we’ll continue to compete as we go through.

“I think you have to have a reliable kicker,” he added. “It just makes your offense do things in the redzone. You’ve got to have three points when you get down there. Right now, it’s too inconsistent.”

Meanwhile, Stoops said the kickoff return duties could go to speedster Garic Wharton or Carey, while cornerback Jonathan McKnight and receiver David Douglas could see time returning punts.

As for nickel packages, Stoops said a decision hasn’t been made but summer camp standout and redshirt freshman Jourdon Grandon has returned to practice after suffering a sprained knee a few weeks ago.

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