TUCSON, Ariz. — Before he could say thanks and wish Ka’Deem Carey well in his professional football career, Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez had to know — deep down — that his All-American running back wasn’t coming back for his senior season.
A hope and a wish that he would? Maybe, but …
Carey, Arizona’s all-time leading rusher with 4,232 yards, had little left to accomplish at Arizona except absorb more punishment that could impact his future earnings.
Now it’s Rodriguez’s job to find Carey’s replacement. But how do you find a running back who had so much durability, grace and power? And, oh yes, all those yards and 52 touchdowns?
It won’t be easy. But Rodriguez’s system has typically produced explosive running attacks, and in reality, no one could have expected this much from Carey when the new coach took over two years ago.
Arizona will have to do it with a group of untested underclassmen who lived and learned in the shadow of Carey and his show-and-tell work ethic they all will need to succeed.
The list of candidates currently stands at five, with no clear front-runner simply because so little has been seen of any of them.
Baker (5-8, 188) is one of the fastest players on the team but suffered an ACL injury in the regular-season finale against Arizona State and is likely out for months. ACL’s aren’t easy to recover from, and is availability is far from certain He was on the special teams and rushed for 127 yards on 27 carries this past season.
Cormier (5-10, 183) might be Arizona’s best hope at the position to begin the year. He said he was content on redshirting in his first year on campus because there was a lot to learn, and who better to learn it from than Carey? The former four-star back from San Diego said he needed to get better physically and stronger as he adjusts to the college game.
Green (5-10, 220) is a big bruiser type who be neck and neck with Cormier and might be part of a time-share given their different styles. Green was a durable back in high school, rushing for more than 1,900 yards on 210 carries as a high school senior. The three-star recruit from Ventura, Calif., could provide the power game while Cormier provides the quickness.
Wilson (6-0, 191, Fresno, Calif.) is a four-star recruit from Fresno, Calif., who could have an impact right away if he picks up the offense. He has good size and fancies himself to be a guy like Carey, and that says a lot. In two high school seasons he rushed for more than 2,600 yards and was rated as one of the top 20 running backs in the country last season, though injuries (ankle, shoulder) limited him as a senior. He’s said to play with "good balance and body control" and doesn’t mind contact. Remind you of someone?
Haden (5-8, 189) was just announced as a spring semester add. The three-star recruit from Washington, D.C., is a smallish back who has speed and solid bloodlines. Three older brothers were Division I talents, and Joe is a star cornerback with the Cleveland Browns. His participation in the spring should speed up his assimilation into the offense.
"The teams, the coaches, the whole area – the whole feel of practice – it felt like a place I could see myself being," Haden told the Washington Post when he committed to UA over the summer. "Running back in the zone read, I just fit in with the offense that they run."