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Arizona football: Running back health is key to maintaining success

Wilson, Baker and Haden could create a triple-headed monster in the backfield

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The key to another successful season for the Arizona Wildcats is going to be health and depth. There were numerous injuries that held the Wildcats back throughout the season, specifically on offense.

Rich Rodriguez will have to strategically optimize the use of his running backs, especially considering the injury histories of Nick Wilson and Jared Baker. With Wilson as the feature back, Arizona should have one of the most complete offenses in the nation.

5th year veteran Jared Baker will work his way onto the field to relieve Wilson and takeover the role of now graduated Terris Jones-Grigsby. Baker was a great compliment to Ka'Deem Carey in 2013, before suffering an ACL injury during the Territorial Cup game in Tempe. He bounced back and got minimal reps last season, but really kept Arizona's offense intact vs USC this past season after Wilson and Jones-Grigsby went down.

It's hard to tell how much Baker will really be used this upcoming season. He was very productive prior to his injury and the 12-straight games will definitely be a thought in Rich Rod's head. Baker certainly has the ability to create a two-headed monster in the backfield, much like Wilson and Jones-Grigsby last season.

That third running back slot is going to be a battle between Jonathan Haden and incoming freshman Orlando Bradford. Haden is still making the position change from slot to running back, but still has the advantage of just being in the system. During spring practices, he had said that he's just trying to make better reads and use his vision to make cuts.

The third running back in Rich Rod's system never really gets too involved, but is often vital when it comes to injuries and distribution of carries. Over the past three years, no third-string running back has had more than 27 carries on the season. Given the schedule, and possibly the abilities of Bradford or Haden, we might see that total being bumped to 45 this season if all goes well.

As a true sophomore, Wilson will have at least one more season. This is Baker's last year in an Arizona jersey, with Haden entering his sophomore year and Bradford with four full years ahead. A lot of youth going forward in the backfield, especially considering the commitment of 3-star running backs Sean Riley and Russell Halimon for 2016.