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Arizona RB J.J. Taylor hopes to be even faster in 2018: ‘I was tired of getting caught from behind’

Is that possible?

Arizona v California Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

J.J. Taylor can count on one hand how many times he was caught from behind last season.

“Two times. Three times,” the Arizona Wildcats running back said.

It’s a low number for a guy who had 146 carries, but it’s still two or three too many, so his main focus this offseason was to get even faster.

“Because I was tired of being caught from behind,” said Taylor, who rushed for 847 yards last year. “It just sucks. You get out there and you’re just like, ‘dang, I could have had it.’”

The 5-foot-6 Taylor also wants to add about five more pounds of muscle. Right now he checks in around 185 pounds. Last year he was listed at 180.

That added strength should help him manage a bigger workload, which will be needed now that Nick Wilson and Zach Green are no longer with the program, leaving Taylor as Arizona’s featured runner.

Taylor met the media to discuss that and more on Monday. Here are other tidbits from the conversation:

Do you sense that there’s been a lot of progress made since spring?

We’re talking more, the tempo was a lot faster than it was in the spring and everybody’s just moving a lot better.

Is it different for you now that you’re probably the main back?

Not really. I’m the same person. I’m still going to work hard and push my teammates to be the best they can be.

What’s been your personal focus this offseason? Where are you trying to get better?

Trying to get faster mainly and then bigger in the weight room, but faster.

So are you faster?

I believe so. I hope so.

Sometimes it looks like when you guys are playing another team, they look for you to hit you because you’re smaller ... do you get the sense that they’re trying to get an extra shot on you?

I’ve gotten that sense since high school. Everybody’s trying to bully the little guy. That’s how it is, but it is what it is.

In what ways is this offense different for the running backs?

Less thinking for us. The quarterback mainly tells us what to do and we’ll just listen to him and go off that.

Did it used to be more the other way around?

We had to know more of the offense. We still know the offense, but it’s not more of a thinking part. We just hear the play and go.

Is there more responsibility on the quarterback?

The quarterback always has the most responsibility.

It seems like from what we’ve seen, there’s going to be catching opportunities for you. Is that true? And do you look forward to that?

I’m just looking forward to playing and everybody else. Hopefully.

What’s most impressed you about Khalil Tate in the offseason?

His work ethic. He’s changed a lot, he’s working hard, getting at it in a weight room and becoming a quarterback, aka a leader.

So when you say he’s changed out a lot...

More vocally sound. When you have somebody right next to you when you’re down, he’s gonna pick you up, push you.

What do you like about the way Coach (Kevin) Sumlin goes about his business?

Very, very calm ... I guess more positive. He tries to pick up each player when something doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to.

Is he much of a yeller or screamer at practice?

I haven’t seen any of that yet.

What have you seen out of the new running back Darrius Smith so far?

You mean Bam? He’s working hard. He’s getting in his playbook. We’re getting to know each other just like everybody else in the running back room.

What’s the biggest difference between Coach (Calvin) Magee and Coach (Clarence) McKinney?

I don’t really know. The same thing happens at practice. If we were to do something wrong, they both jump on us like the way they both do. I can’t really say anything about that.

Are there any points of emphasis that Coach McKinney tries to get across everyday?

Playbook. If you don’t know your playbook, you won’t play. And if you don’t finish a play, you won’t play. So just working hard throughout the whole practice and being the best you can be.

How’s Nathan Tilford coming along?

He’s doing great. He’s doing his thing.

There’s a lot of moving parts on the offensive line.... how do you feel like that unit is coming together?

It’s always been together. They always do everything together. They eat together, they meet more than anybody else on the field.

What’s surprised you the most about the first three or four days?

Tempo. We’re moving super fast for the first three practices.

Was that not the case at the start of spring?

It was much more getting into everything. Now we’re just clicking.

Jace Whittaker talked earlier and he seemed very dissatisfied with the way last season ended...

We all are. I guess if some were to say the season was good, we can do better. We’re trying to win every game.

Everyone has talked about the changes in their bodies since (strength and conditioning) Coach (Brian) Johnson took over. Have you noticed you that? What is it about his program that makes a difference?

A lot of people are just getting bigger. The offensive linemen are getting some weight on them. Everybody else is getting weight. Everyone is just getting at it.