Welcome back to our annual series in which we try to determine if the Arizona Wildcats’ position groups are in strong, stable, unstable, or critical condition heading into fall camp, which opens Aug. 6. Next up? The running backs!
- Key returners: Michael Wiley (So.), Bam Smith (RS So.), Jalen John (Fr.)
- Key additions: Drake Anderson (So.), Stevie Rocker Jr. (Fr.), James Bohls (Fr.)
- Key departures: Gary Brightwell, Frank Brown, Nathan Tilford
Even as the losses have piled up over the years, running back has been a position of strength for the Wildcats. J.J. Taylor and Gary Brightwell won over fans with their speed and hard-nosed running. Both are in the NFL now, paving the way for some young ‘backs to take the mantle.
Next in line is Michael Wiley, who was Brightwell’s backup and Arizona’s second-leading rusher last season after racking up 225 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries. That’s a healthy 7.2 yards per touch. He also caught eight passes for 33 yards.
At 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, Wiley can run between the tackles but also possesses enough speed and quickness to make people miss in the open field.
Bam Smith is back after opting out of the 2020 season. He was a dynamic scat back in 2019, carrying the ball 34 times for 203 yards and a touchdown. He also caught 12 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns and could be an effective third-down back in passing situations.
Drake Anderson joins Arizona after three seasons at Northwestern. In 21 career games, he ran for 926 yards (on 4.1 yards per carry) and five touchdowns along with 10 receptions. The Chandler High product is known for his elusiveness.
Jalen John is basically the same size as Anderson and has a nice combination of vision, burst and power, though he only has four carries and three catches to his name and battled injuries in the spring. (So did Wiley.)
Stevie Rocker Jr., a local kid, joins the Wildcats from Tucson’s Canyon del Oro High School. Injuries slowed him down in his junior and senior seasons but he was a monster as a sophomore, rushing for nearly 1,200 yards in 10 games. He impressed in Arizona’s spring game, a promising sign that he can return to form and make an immediate impact if need be.
James Bohls, who’s 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, gives Arizona a dose of power out of the backfield. The 2021 Orange County Offensive Player of the Year, Bohls rushed for 655 yards and 11 touchdowns in just five games at San Clemente High School this past season.
We’ve learned over the years not to worry about the running back position. Arizona consistently churns out quality backs. Their offensive line and QB play are the real question marks.