Arizona football newcomers had been off limits to the media until Tuesday. Those were coach Mike Stoops’ orders, his way of tamping down unrealistic expectations. No player’s ego should inflate before his production does.
With the restriction lifted, the local media closed in on the local kid after Tuesday’s practice. Freshman running back Ka’Deem Carey, from Canyon del Oro High School and the top-rated recruit in Arizona’s 2011 class, faced the video cameras, the notebooks, the audio recorders.
Carey, known in high school to have a confidence level that might have bordered on something else, didn’t make any bold predictions — “I’m just here playing football like any other person,” he said.
He acknowledged he is learning the same lesson as every other true freshman: The speed of the game moves way faster now.
“Playing at this level is different,” he said.
Carey had turned in a solid fall camp, competing for the third-string job behind Keola Antolin and Daniel Jenkins, before raising the flames of expectations with eight carries for 69 yards in Saturday’s scrimmage at Arizona Stadium.
“I don’t really know. I’m just trying to help out the team as much as possible,” he said.
He added later: “If I’m ready to play, then I’m ready to play. If not, I’m waiting for them to call my name.”
While he handled the media blitz just fine — not saying anything that would make Stoops blanch — it is another kind of blitz that likely will determine how much he plays. Can Carey earn the coaches’ trust in terms of picking up blitzes?
Said Jenkins, a redshirt sophomore: “Everybody talks about how the speed from high school to college is different, but, to be honest, the hardest thing to learn as a freshman is blitz pickup. You have to be able to react to those defenses, because if you don’t, Nick Foles is out and you’ve got a problem because there goes your quarterback.
“Defenses do such a great job of disguising blitzes. It’s really complicated.”
Or as Carey put it …
“You’ve got to block at this level or you aren’t going to play. Coach put it like that.”
While the blocking part of the job is new and complicated for true freshmen, the running back position still is the one where it’s easiest for a rookie to make an impact.
Four freshmen ran for 1,000 yards last season — San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman (1,532), South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore (1,197), Wisconsin’s James White (1,052) and Auburn’s Michael Dyer. His 1,093 yards included that a tackle-defying 37 yards that moved the Tigers into winning position against Oregon in the national championship game.
The year before that, three of the nation’s top nine rushers were freshmen. And it’s not like those kids were playing in the Sun Belt. They were from Pitt, Virginia Tech and Oregon, teams that combined to go 30-9.
In 2008, Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers seemed to single-handedly beat USC; he and four other freshmen across the nation each ran for 1,000 yards.
And on and on.
To have that kind of impact as a freshman running back, you have to be good and you have to have opportunity. With Antolin and Jenkins ahead of him, Carey might not be standing in the middle of that intersection, but he has done little to discourage the notion he could still be a great influence on Arizona’s 2011 season.
“He has the physical maturity that you like in a back; it’s the mental maturity to understand the details that are important to be really successful,” Stoops said.
“That is something that is hard for young players to understand — to be able to process the whole picture. That is something we are still working on.”