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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Full Speed Ahead

    UA running back Nicolas Grigsby stretches for a handoff during a March 24 practice. Grigsby is expected to be the feature back of the offense next season, and the team hopes he can build on his four touchdown, 904 total yard performance from last year.

    UA freshman running back Nicolas Grigsby stands just 5-foot-10 and weighs 178 pounds – an unlikely build for a feature running back for one of the “”Big Six”” conferences.

    Grigsby was thrust into the starting lineup in the fourth game of last season to try and bolster an anemic running game (Arizona mustered only 70 yards rushing against the two Division I opponents prior to the Sept. 22 contest against California).

    He delivered with the teams’ first rushing touchdown of the season against Cal and a 186-yard, 30-carry performance in his first home start the following week against Washington State.

    Last year, the big pre-season question for the Wildcats was how the offense would respond to a new offensive coordinator’s pass-heavy scheme. This year, the big question surrounding the offense is if Grigsby can ignite the worst-ranked rushing offense in the Pacific 10 Conference (76.8 yards per game) and be a consistent contributor to the team, or will it still heavily rely on the “”Air-zona”” attack?

    “”Nic has done a really good job (this spring),”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”He’s starting to be a more physical runner and we want to get him stronger. He’s got great speed and he’s very elusive in the open field, but we wanted to make him a better running back and that’s what Nic has worked hard on.””

    Grigsby carried the ball 161 times in 10 games last season and led the team in rushing yards with 704, good enough for 10th in the Pac-10 (wide receiver Mike Thomas was second on the team with 173 yards on just 10 carries).

    Grigsby, however, often tried to bounce the ball outside and hesitated to run between the tackles, something Stoops said Grigsby has improved on. In order for Grigsby to continue the type of success he had last season, he had to make some adjustments to his finesse running style to be able to do all the little things an every-down back has to do.

    “”This isn’t high school where you’re gonna outrun people to the sidelines,”” Stoops said. “”People are very fast and the structure of people’s defenses makes it very difficult to try and make a big run every time you get the football. He’s kind of a scat runner and (he needs to) just become a more consistent running back.

    “”He’s also starting to become a more mature player on and off the field and I think that’s the first sign of being a great player,”” Stoops added. “”I think you have to be an accountable, very disciplined person and Nic’s starting to mature.””

    Grigsby was called on to catch passes sparingly last year, but turned his 35 catches into 200 yards and two touchdowns. UA offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes’ style calls on backs to make lots of catches as former Texas Tech running back Taurean Henderson’s NCAA running back record of 305 career catches indicates. Being the featured back in Dykes’ offense should further showcase Grigsby’s versatility next season and help mold him into the complete, explosive player Stoops eluded to.

    “”(Grigsby) kinda needs to pick up where he left off last year,”” Dykes said. “”He did a lot of good things last year, but he’s just got to continue to improve and do the little things. The reason he played last year was because he was competitive and he did some good things with the ball.

    “”Now he’s got to learn the little nuances and details and things that are gonna make him a really good running back,”” Dykes added.

    Some of those nuances include pass protection, a must for the No. 2 passing offense in the Pac-10 (308.5 yards per game).

    “”I used to hate (pass blocking) but now I gotta love it,”” Grigsby said. “”I have to so I’m tryin’ to get at (strength) coach (Corey) Edmond, get bigger and get ready to hit some big dudes.””

    With Grigsby progressing as he has been so far this spring, the potential for an explosive, more balanced offense next year seems promising. Returning offensive players benefited from the first year under Dykes’ system, but players and coaches alike know there’s lots of work to do before that can happen.

    “”What he does will help me out, too, like play action and (opposing defenses) having to get an extra guy in the box so we can throw the ball a little bit,”” said UA quarterback Willie Tuitama. “”The way we throw the ball depends on how you can run the ball. If we start throwing the ball all over the field we’re gonna spread people out and then that’s when we run the ball on ’em.

    “”I’m definitely excited (about the offense’s possibilities for next season),”” Tuitama added. “”I’m just taking it one practice at a time and just trying to get better everyday and get out here and get ready to go in August.””

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