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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Position Preview: Running Backs

In the 11 days leading up to the Wildcats’ season opener against Toledo on Sept. 1, the Daily Wildcat will preview each position on Arizona’s roster, alternating between offense and defense.

Projected starters: Ka’Deem Carey (sophomore), Taimi Tutogi (senior)

Backups: Daniel Jenkins (junior), Kylan Butler (junior), J.T. Washington (freshman)

Departures: Keola Antolin (NFL free agent), Greg Nwoko (switch to linebacker)

Returning stat leaders: Carey — 91 attempts, 425 yards, 6 touchdowns; Jenkins — 31 attempts, 176 yards, 2 touchdowns; Tutogi — 25 carries, 73 yards, 4 touchdowns; Butler — 6 carries, 29 yards

Keola Antolin, who received siginificant playing time in all four years of his time at the UA, finally graduated and took with him 500 career carries and 2,398 yards. But what Antolin left behind is a unit teeming with raw talent and depth, something that isn’t really true elsewhere on the Wildcats depleted roster.

Sophomore Ka’Deem Carey and junior Daniel Jenkins were both four-star recruits coming into college, and now that the incumbent Antolin is gone, they’ll have a chance to create a formidable backfield.

With head coach Rich Rodriguez implementing his run-oriented system and an experienced offensive line blocking up front, the running game should make huge strides from its 114th ranked rushing attack (total yards) in 2011.

Last season Carey showed flashes of his potential with a team-high six rushing touchdowns despite having 35 fewer attempts than Antolin. Carey also led running backs with 203 yards receiving and added two more scores through the air.

Jenkins wasn’t featured as much last season, but his big play potential was evident in his team-high 5.7 yards per carry and also had the longest rush of the season — though it was still only 34 yards.

Senior back Taimi Tutogi, on the other hand, will have an interesting role for the Wildcats this season.

The 6-foot-1 inch, 250-pound bruiser has played in all four of his years at Arizona, but this year he’s projected to play both at fullback and on the defensive line. Still, the veteran runner should convert some goal line carries this year and give Arizona some added power.

Senior Greg Nwoko, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, also moved from running back to the defense so he can help at linebacker. But unlike Tutogi, Nwoko is now permanentely on the defense.

Barring any other running backs being injured during the year, junior Kylan Butler and freshman speedster J.T. Washington won’t have huge roles in the run game this season, but both have shown plenty of ability during fall camp. In Rodriguez’s fast-paced offense, the two backs should still get plenty of opportunities to shine when their numbers are called as change of pace backs.

Last season the run game was almost non-existent, other than a shocking 254-yard effort against UCLA, but now that the offensive line has a season under its belt and the offense’s focus has shifted to run-first, the running backs should thrive and be the strength of this team.

Grade: A —

Up Next: Defensive Backs

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