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Arizona football: A closer look at the running back depth

Nick Wilson and Orlando Bradford will look to provide a one-two punch for Arizona. But Wilson has been battling injuries his entire career

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Since Rich Rodriguez has taken over, the Arizona Wildcats have had a rushing offense ranked inside the top-50 nationally, with all but one year, 2014, ranked within the top-23. With Nick Wilson and Orlando Bradford featured as the one-two punch in the backfield, this could prove to be yet another top-25 rushing attack in the nation.

But a guy like Nick Wilson has been plagued with injuries since he started as a true freshman, with head, leg and foot injuries throughout his first two years. It’s no secret that Wilson has been an absolute workhorse. But that usage has started to take a toll on his body, or so it seems. He’s had multiple injuries throughout his career that have kept him out of many games.

Towards the tail end of 2015, he missed four of the final seven games of the season, finishing with a total of 18 carries in those three games he actually played. The running back situation is one that I think is getting overlooked, and I’m glad I got multiple questions with people thinking the same way.

With that being said, I think Orlando Bradford takes a bulk of the carries to relieve Wilson for two reasons. One, he’s just that good, a complete bowling ball running through the lanes. He also has a firm understanding of the offense, and earned a lot of trust from the coaches as a true freshman.

The second reason being because Wilson probably isn’t a guy the coaching staff wants to give more than 25 carries. In his first six games of the season, when he was completely healthy, he averaged 19 carries a game. But between Wilson and Bradford, this could be a near 50/50 split.

Is Wilson ultra-productive? Yes. And the coaching staff isn’t going to micromanage his carries and think about his usage all that much during the heat of the moment. But you would think they try and conserve him, inserting Bradford into the backfield when they can.

So now for the second half of the question, figuring out the depth if Wilson goes down. Then, I would expect Bradford to ultimately take care of the workload, and he's more than capable of doing so. Then you have to figure out who will be behind Bradford for the time being.

For now, that guy figures to be Brandon Leon, as Rodriguez spoke highly of him this spring. Zach Green is also in the conversation.

But Rich Rodriguez has also said that he will expect some slot receivers to come in and get some touches out of the backfield. Those guys would likely be Tyrell Johnson, who has received a couple carries in the past, as well as Shun Brown. This would have been where Jonathan Haden came in, but he announced his transfer just before spring practice began.

Another guy to watch will be JJ Taylor, Arizona's 3-star running back signee from the 2016 class. Rodriguez has said he's not small, he's just short, but extremely well put together. Arizona listed him at 5-foot-5, 155lbs on National Signing Day.

When you watch his film, he's not a guy that's going to go down as easily as you would expect. Of course, now he'll be going up against guys in the Pac-12, but he's an electrifying playmaker that will be a great piece to this offense, in both the pass and run.

Electrifying and all, he's going to have to come into the summer and learn the offense relatively fast if he wants to see the field. Given his size, he's definitely not going to be coming in for blocking purposes, which gives him less responsibility for the time being.

This summer will be big for the running backs, with Brandon Leon, Zach Green and JJ Taylor battling it out, as well as Tyrell Johnson and Shun Brown potentially getting carries as well.