The new Arizona Wildcats football coaches are in the getting-to-know-you stage with their players — learning about their backgrounds and personalities.
It won’t take the coaches long to learn about some players on the field.
Calvin Magee, the co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach chuckled when asked what he already knew about freshman running back Ka’Deem Carey.
“I know he can play,” Magee said.
“I know the kid is a really good kid, after meeting him. His talent speaks for itself. I’m really, really looking forward to working with him and helping him improve.”
The old coaching staff eased Carey into the rotation this season, and the true freshman eventually worked his way into a time-share with senior Keola Antolin.
Carey rushed 91 times for 425 yards and six touchdowns. He caught 15 passes for 203 yards and two scores. He returned 26 kicks for 549 yards.
The Canyon del Oro High graduate sprinkled in enough highlight runs — showing good speed and toughness — to think that he could be “special,” which is a word coaches used repeatedly about Carey near the end of the season.
Carey’s versatility and potential make him a good fit for any offense, but he and the rest of the backs will have a learning curve this spring in coach Rich Rodriguez’s zone-read offense.
Magee, who was with Rodriguez for seven years at West Virginia and three at Michigan, has coaxed success out of a variety of different-styled running backs.
In their final few years with the Mountaineers, they mixed slippery-quick Steve Slaton with 260-pound (or so) Owen Schmitt.
“That’s what is really interesting,” Magee said.
“We have had the really, small, fast, quick guy. We have had the powerful guy. We have had the slasher. The offense is suitable for all types of backs. As a matter of fact, we kind of want to change the pace with some different kind of backs.
“We have had guys over the years who have really adapted to what we’re doing, and we have a lot of things we can adapt to them.”
Beyond Carey, Arizona has junior-to-be Daniel Jenkins (31 carries, 176 yards) and hybrid fullback/h-back/tight end Taimi Tutogi (the new Schmitt?). Another big back, Greg Nwoko, should be good in the spring after missing the 2011 season because of a knee injury.
Memo to all the running backs: Rodriguez values toughness above all else.
At West Virginia, he used to keep one of Schmitt’s twisted face masks — from a 2005 triple-overtime victory over Louisville — in his office. Schmitt played hard enough to destroy a face mask every few games.
“Those things are steel, and they’re not easy to bend,” Rodriguez told USA Today in a 2006 story.
“Part of what he did in that game, and what we try to embody in our program, is playing tough and physical all the way from the first play to the last play. That overtime showed a little bit of not just Owen’s personality, but our personality.”
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Secondary coach Tony Gibson is known as an ace recruiter, but he’s happy he wasn’t able to help Pitt close the deal with Cortez Johnson last winter.
Johnson took a visit to Pitt but signed with Arizona, where he played as a cornerback as a true freshman while battling concussion problems. He started one game when Shaquille Richardson was suspended.
As far as first impressions go with his defensive backs, Gibson said he “really likes” safety Adam Hall, who played in only one game in 2011 because of a knee injury.
“He’s a great player,” Gibson said.
“I like the Flowers kid,” he added, talking about safety Marquise Flowers. “I’ve heard a lot of good things about (cornerback) Jonathan McKnight. We have a lot of good, young kids.”
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Former Arizona offensive coordinator Dino Babers was hired last week as the head coach at Eastern Illinois.
Babers, 50, was on the UA staff under Dick Tomey from 1995 to 2000, serving as offensive coordinator for the last three of those years. He took over when Homer Smith retired because of health reasons.
Arizona’s offenses from 1998 and 1999 remain two of most prolific in school history. The 1998 team averaged 34.7 points; the 1999 squad holds the school record by averaging 471.9 yards per game.
“Dino would be the first to tell you that accomplishments of that time were a reflection of what Homer Smith brought to us,” Tomey said.
“Dino built on that. He is an outstanding offensive coach.”
After Arizona, Babers worked at Texas A&M, Pitt, UCLA and, for the past four seasons, Baylor. Part of his responsibilities at Baylor have been to coach receivers, including the superb Kendall Wright, who helped quarterback Robert Griffin III win the Heisman Trophy.
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How much is Rodriguez getting into the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry?
Rodriguez was the guest of honor at a fan event in Phoenix on Tuesday when someone handed him a football, along with a marker to sign it. One problem, according to this story from FoxSportsArizona.com: The marker didn’t work.
“That must be an ASU pen,” Rodriguez joked.