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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    RBs to be utilized more as receivers

    Running back Chris Jennings tries to break a tackle during the final fall scrimmage Aug. 18 at Arizona Stadium. With the early departure of Chris Henry, Jennings, who averaged 4.3 yards per carry last season, moved to the top of the depth chart as a starter this season.
    Running back Chris Jennings tries to break a tackle during the final fall scrimmage Aug. 18 at Arizona Stadium. With the early departure of Chris Henry, Jennings, who averaged 4.3 yards per carry last season, moved to the top of the depth chart as a starter this season.

    Chris Jennings was handed a silver platter this offseason.

    Sitting second on the depth chart, the man in front of him had just declared for the NFL draft, all but assuring that Jennings, now a senior, would become Arizona’s next starting running back.

    His predecessor, Chris Henry, had enough of the Wildcats. He felt uncomfortable with the hiring of offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes from Texas Tech and a new, supposedly pass-heavy offense.

    Henry didn’t compile the most eye-popping statistics for a college running back, but he still decided to leave a year early because he thought he had already shown all his skills to the fullest extent. Thanks to excellent workouts at the NFL Combine, the Tennessee Titans chose him in the middle of April’s second round.

    Still, Jennings said, “”I was shocked. I thought running backs always stayed until the fourth year and finish and everything, but he made the right decision. You can’t do anything but pat him on the back and say good job.

    “”Us as running backs, we looked at that (decision) as a time to take care of business. He set the bar. We just have to amount to that and beyond.””

    Statistically speaking,

    We have a lot of different options and a lot of different formations and looks that we can do.

    -Mike Stoops
    head coach

    Jennings was not far behind Henry last year. Starting half the games, he put together 451 rushing yards, 130 fewer than Henry, with three touchdowns on 105 attempts. He also averaged 4.3 yards per carry to Henry’s 3.5.

    But whether Jennings builds on those numbers this season depends on how much the “”Airzona”” offense indeed goes to the ground.

    Last year under Dykes, Texas Tech running back Shannon Woods had 75 receptions. Under Mike Canales, Arizona had 29 among three players.

    Texas Tech averaged 17 rushes and 50 passes per game. Arizona averaged 32 and 30. Woods rushed 156 times for Tech, while the Wildcats got 270 from Henry and Jennings combined.

    “”We have a lot of different options and a lot of different formations and looks that we can do,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”We really have to utilize our personnel.

    “”I like Chris Jennings and (sophomore backup) Xavier Smith. They’re both very talented players. I think they fit our system well.””

    At the fall scrimmage Aug. 18, Dykes may have exposed his plans to utilize his backfield weapons.

    Jennings had 93 yards on nine catches, two more than he had all last year. Smith added six more catches and freshman Joe Reese had a reception. Collectively, they carried 19 times for 80 yards.

    “”I love to catch,”” Jennings said. “”I just love getting my hands on the ball.””

    Jennings said he could envision himself following in Woods’ footsteps, getting 75 receptions this season.

    “”If the quarterback is in trouble, he’s going to dump it to us, so I could see it,”” he said. “”You have an outlet to give it to the running backs. That dimension is a big part of the offense.””

    That isn’t to take away from Arizona’s running game. Dykes said he has been very impressed with Jennings’ versatility. His only complaint is that Jennings has fumbled a bit often, though he is working on ball control.

    “”He’s a tough, physical kid, catches the ball well, runs extremely hard,”” Dykes said. “”He’s real productive and very gifted because he catches the ball so well. He brings a great physical presence to the game for sure. He breaks a lot of tackles and does a great job of finishing runs.””

    Rounding out the depth chart at running back are Smith, Terry Longbons, Glyndon Bolasky, Nick Grigsby and Reese, and all could see playing time given Arizona’s new propensity to spread the wealth.

    If Dykes’s formula holds true, it might be a tiring year for Jennings and company.

    “”You can’t complain,”” Jennings said. “”You’ve got to go twice as hard at practice to try to get the stamina up. The tempo is going to be taken up a few notches, and we’ll be getting after it more.””

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