- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez is the sort of offensive mind who can make lemonade out of a box of yellow rocks, so it will be interesting to see what he makes out of his offense in 2014, post-Ka'Deem Carey.
The Wildcats will be replacing not only Carey, who formally announced he would enter this spring's NFL draft on Monday, but, essentially, all their 2013 rushing production. The leading returning rusher is junior Jared Baker, who only had 27 carries for 127 yards, and he will miss spring practices with a torn ACL.
Further, Rich Rod is -- again -- replacing his starting QB, B.J. Denker, the second-leading rusher with 949 yards.
But Wildcats fans shouldn't immediately despair. In fact, Arizona's offense has intriguing potential for next season. For one, it welcomes back four starters on its offensive line. Second, it probably will have the deepest crew of receivers in the conference, one that likely will sneak up on the casual observer.
Not only are the top-two receivers from 2013, Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant, as well as AdvoCare V100 Bowl star Trey Griffey, David Richards and Garic Wharton returning, but there's also the impending return of Austin Hill, an All-American candidate who missed 2013 with a knee injury. Then there's a pair of high profile transfers, DaVonte' Neal (Notre Dame) and Cayleb Jones (Texas), who have looked like big-time playmakers in practice while sitting out last year due to transfer rules.
So whoever wins the QB job will have plenty of options. The competition this spring among that deep crew should be fun to watch, too.
Yet who replaces Carey? The answer is that's the wrong question. You don't replace a guy like Carey, who set 24 school rushing records and is the program's only two-time consensus first-team All-American. He ranks No. 1 on Arizona's and No. 7 on the Pac-12's all-time rushing list with 4,239 yards.
What we can tell you is the Wildcats are going to be young at the position. Redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green will be joined by incoming true freshman and early-enrollee Jonathan Haden this spring. Haden is the younger brother of former Florida star Joe Haden, 2010 became a first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns. Then touted RB recruit Nick Wilson arrives in the summer.
While one guy might end up blowing away the competition, the most likely scenario is two or three guys getting plenty of touches, at least early in the season until someone proves himself as option-A. Further, Wilson, at 6-foot, 191 pounds, and the 220-pound Green offer some size and physicality the other guys might not.
While there's certainly some intrigue on offense, Rodriguez and his co-coordinators, Rod Smith and Calvin Magee, who happened to coach QBs and RBs, respectively, have a pretty darn good track record finding the right guys to keep their high-octane offense churning, whether it's pass- or run-first.
In fact, if you were rating preseason questions for Arizona, you probably should go ahead and rate replacing five starters on Jeff Casteel's defense -- the Pac-12's most improved unit in 2013 -- as a bigger worry.
2dChantel Jennings and Ted Miller