You can’t win with just one running back in college football. Not even if you’re the Arizona Wildcats and you have Ka’Deem Carey in your backfield, who led the nation in rushing in 2012. Rich Rodriguez will need someone else to step up next fall as a complementary back to Carey and running backs Jared Baker and Kylan Butler are auditioning for the role in spring practice.
The need for a new No. 2 running back became necessary in January when Daniel Jenkins decided to transfer to his senior season for the Washington State Cougars, where he figures to get a bit more playing time in 2013. Jenkins saw action in all 13 games last season, though he only carried the ball 67 times for 293 yards and a pair of touchdowns. That wasn’t enough opportunity for the junior, however, which prompted his decision to leave Tucson.
In his place, Rodriguez will work out Baker and Butler this spring to find out what they can bring to the table. Between the two of them, they have just 31 career carries, so neither brings a wealth of experience to the position. Baker had 20 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown last season as a freshman while Butler, a redshirt senior, has 11 carries for 57 yards in three seasons with the Cats.
Baker seems to have the advantage, though he is younger, as he earned limited playing time at running back in 2012 while he found a role on special teams. Over the final seven games of the season, Baker was plugged in as the main kick returner for Arizona. That experience should help give him a leg up in the competition this spring.
Butler has predominately played as a reserve on offense but also worked his way onto the field on special teams, though he’s responsible for the tackling part more than the flashy returns like Baker. He’s ingratiated himself with the coaching staff through non-stop effort and hustle in his four years on campus, and could turn that good will into some carries with a strong spring.
Both running backs will want to take advantage of their opportunity this spring as the Wildcats prepare to welcome four three-star running back recruits to campus in fall camp in Pierre Cormier, Zachary Green, T.J. Johnson and Mauriece Lee. Those young legs will be itching to earn some playing time in August and Rodriguez has shown a willingness to throw younger guys out there (especially after it worked so well with Carey).
Rodriguez would like to find three or four running backs that he feels comfortable playing in any situation, so there will be plenty of opportunities this spring and into next fall. Can Baker and/or Butler secure their spot in the running back pecking order this spring?