Arizona Football: A Preview of the Running Backs for 2022

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 30: Running back Stevie Rocker Jr. #23 of the Arizona Wildcats carries the ball against the USC Trojans during a college football game between the Arizona Wildcats and the USC Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 30, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 30: Running back Stevie Rocker Jr. #23 of the Arizona Wildcats carries the ball against the USC Trojans during a college football game between the Arizona Wildcats and the USC Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 30, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images) /

As Arizona Football completes day five of its fall training camp, the running backs corps has strong depth heading into the 2022 season. 

The Arizona Football roster as of today accounts for ten running backs. The room is made up of four juniors, three sophomores, two freshmen, and a grad transfer.

Heading into 2022, I expect the running backs with previous experience in head coach Jedd Fisch’s and offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll’s system, (i.e. – Michael Wiley, Drake Anderson, Stevie Rocker, and Jalen John) to do a lot of the work, particularly early in the season. Of course, that is subject to change as the season goes on.

Fisch certainly has choices and a variety of personnel in this room. The unknown variable, that I am confident running backs coach Scottie Graham and OC Brennan Carroll will determine as camp goes on, is where grad transfer DJ Williams fits in with all of his experience.

Williams transferred to Arizona from Florida State, more on him later in this article. But first, let’s get into some specifics on these running backs.

In 2021, Wiley, a 5-foot-11 207-pound all-purpose back played in 11 games for the Cats, making five starts. He led the Wildcats in touchdowns with six (four receiving and two rushing). He finished the season tied for second on the team in receptions with 33 for 297 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the 4th quarter on a 10-yard run up the middle against the Cal Bears to break the Wildcats’ 20-game losing streak.

The red zone was a nightmare last year, however, Wiley was a guy that quietly managed to get in the end zone six times. Let’s review more from last season.

Anderson, the 5-foot-11 191-pound transfer from Northwestern played in 11 games, making three starts. Believe it or not, Drake was Arizona’s leading rusher with 410 yds on 87 carries. His best game came against Washington State, eight carries for 92 yards, where he busted a long run in that game for 71 yards.

Both backs do a good job pass blocking and understand when and how to peel away for a dump-off pass if the QB needs another option. These two experienced juniors will stay hungry and work hard in camp to maintain and even improve on their roles in 2021 into the 2022 season.

Stevie Rocker, at 6-foot and 199 pounds was one of the bigger surprises for the Cats last season. He played in 11 games, starting in just one against the Bears. On the season, Stevie carried the rock 31 times, rushing for 153 yards for a 4.9 yards per carry average. He added to his all-purpose yards with seven receptions for 59 yards.

He broke a long run against Washington for 52 yards earlier in the year, and as he returns for his second season, Rocker is hungry for more carries and action in a running back room that is growing.

Rocker works hard, is a smart player, and in 2022, I expect to see him perform exceptionally well on special teams, while he gets more carries out of the backfield in his sophomore campaign. He is a good candidate along with Luke to return punts and kick-offs this year.

Next is Jalen! A 5-foot-11 212-pound back from Oregon, John played in nine games with three starts last season. He put together a solid campaign where he carried the ball 62 times for 250 yards (4.0 yards per carry average). He also finished his season with eight receptions for 42 yards.

Overall, he has good size and withstands contact, while still being able to keep going. He can knock defenders down if he gets to that second level (past the defensive line).

Unfortunately, the offensive line has struggled last season in allowing guys like John to get to that second level. Carroll has worked hard to improve the offensive line, and in 2022, Arizona needs to be better at setting those blocks and creating more opportunities for the backs.

Fresh faces for Arizona Football help fill out the running back room as Jedd Fisch and the Wildcats have a myriad of options.

Coming into 2022, the Wildcats bring in freshman Jonah Coleman. A 5-foot-8 205-pound all-purpose back, Jonah has a solid frame with thick legs, and when he runs, he looks impressive with good footwork and good hands.

He runs hard and hungry and possesses good downfield vision, and he is the kind of hard charger that keeps his legs churning at first contact, refusing to go down. I can see him competing for carries out of the backfield in his first season, as Coleman kind of reminds me of sturdier J.J. Taylor.

His high school stats at Lincoln HS, Stockton, CA were staggering! In his time in high school, Jonah amassed 334 carries for 3,319 yards and 58 touchdowns. His thick frame is also a plus for pass protection.

Additionally, you also have the freshman, Rayshon “Speedy” Luke. Hailing from the highly-touted St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, CA, Rayshon is listed by 247sports as 5-foot-8, 175 (175 might be generous) back. He is very fast, even D1 level track fast. Luke is also a member of the U of A track team.

The new special team’s coach, Jordan Paopao, who replaced the now departed Keith Dudzinski, should consider Luke as a kick-off and/or punt returning specialist early on. This is a role that could be a good fit for his skill set while he continues to develop. Beyond that, his athleticism and speed would greatly benefit the team in that area.

While he has a smaller frame for the D1 level, his cutting, juking, and spinning abilities will be key in combination with his speed. Luke missed spring ball, as he didn’t arrive on campus until this Summer.

Lastly, you have grad transfer, DJ Williams. A 5-foot-10 205-pound standout, DJ arrives in Tucson after spending a year at Florida State (ACC) and two years at Auburn (SEC).

He saw limited playing time at FSU registering just 10 carries. And in three years (2019, 2020, and 2021) he has had a total of 132 carries for 646 yards for an average of 4.9 yards per carry.

In two years at Auburn, DJ had 12 receptions for 72 yards, while not catching a single pass in Tallahassee.

He played in 19 games at Auburn in 2019 and 2020, and keep in mind the SEC played a more robust schedule than other conferences in 2020. Most teams played 9 or 10 games total.

* A note about special teams, with 10 running backs currently on the roster, I envision about 40 percent of them being special teams contributors.

Personally, I’d like to see this amount of depth being used on the ever-so-important special teams. Fisch and assistant coaches have made it known that a key ingredient in player development and getting to the next level is players accepting their role, and playing on special teams.

A great way to develop and maintain football skills, not just individual position skills, is by competing and getting reps, meanwhile striving for a starting role if not already in one. Fisch is a competition guy, and players need to expect to compete.

Let’s hope the 2022 Wildcats bring that edge of competition into the games, and not leave it on the Dick Tomey Practice Field. Every player should be asking to be on special teams.

If Jordan Paopao brings the same level of intensity as a tight ends coach to the special teams, I think Arizona has a chance to capitalize and score points in this area.

The Cats pulled off a blocked punt for points last year at home against Utah. Who blocked the punt? Running Back Nazar Bombata. Wildcat safety Rhedi Short took it to the house for six. Bombata also had a blocked punt against Washington earlier in the year.

Some of our new Wildcats may not have played on special teams since middle school, (assuming they were the superstar of their high school team at a skilled position).

I expect James Bohls, a 6-foot 215-pound pack, and Jashon Butler, a 5-foot-10 200-pound back to both be looking to prime, special teams contributors in camp.

I’m sure guys like Stanley Berryhill III will tell you that his time at Arizona spent on special teams is invaluable for development at the next level.

So far, Fisch has emphasized special teams as a part of his development model. I for one, am excited to see how coach Paopao fires up his guys on special teams and what he conjures up.

The Wildcats have six more training camp dates scheduled with camp concluding with a scrimmage at Arizona Stadium on Saturday, August 20 at 7:30 pm.

The Wildcats open the 2022 season against San Diego State at the brand new state-of-the-art Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego on Saturday, September 3 at 12:30 pm MST on CBS.

The Aztecs beat the Wildcats in Tucson last year 38-14. San Diego State finished the 2021 season with a 12-2 record including a 38-24 win over UTSA in the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Bowl. The Aztecs’ head coach is Brady Hoke.

Related Story. Former Wildcat Stanley Berryhill III continues to impress in Atlanta. light

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