The Beavers enter fall camp with one of the best running backs in the Pac-10 at 100%, but beyond Jacquizz Rodgers, there are some real questions. Mike Riley assured media and fans last week at Pac-10 Media Day that Rodgers (both of them, actually) would be healthy going into camp, but there are still some questions revolving around the returning Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year himself.
First of all, the man hasn't taken a hit in a long time. And doesn't it have to worry you that the hit he took in the Arizona game wasn't even that violent? Look, Quizz is a tough runner, and not much is going to slow him down... unless he comes up with a nagging injury, like a shoulder, that's going to keep him out of games. His between-the-tackles running style isn't quite condusive to staying healthy, but we saw him take hits time and time again in the first part of last season, and be perfectly fine.
Look, the Beavers are a running team. They want to give Quizz the ball. In 2008, the Beavers ran the football 37 times per game. In 2007, the final year of the Yvenson Bernard era, the Beavers rushed the ball 42 times. Bernard played in 11 games, carrying the ball an average of 25 times per game. In 2008, in the 11 games that Jacquizz played in, he carried the ball an average of 24 times per game. So obviously, Jacquizz can take a heavy chunk of the ballcarrying and still produce results. I don't really think stamina or endurance is a question. It's just a matter of fighting through taking hits all games long, which I believe he can, unless he just takes a medoicre hit in the wrong place, like last year at Arizona. But you have to think that Pac-10 defenders will try to tee off on his left shoulder.
Long story short: I'm not worried about Quizz's durability, or worried about him having problems "getting up" after being knocked down 30 times per game. I think the hit he took in the Arizona game was an anomaly, but it's still going to stick out in my mind moving forward.
Now, the question becomes who fills in at #2 on the depth chart. Ryan McCants, who entered 2008 as the starter until Quizz took the nation by storm, will be on the sidelines for fall camp--or at least most of it. That leaves Jovan Stevenson and Ashton Jefferson, two freshman who are unproven but have the potential to get it done.
You have to wonder what this discussion would be like had McCants not injured his knee in Spring practice. Even with a healthy McCants, it seems like things would still be interesting as Stevenson and Jefferson try to creep up the depth chart. McCants just hasn't impressed in practice... and if he's not impressing in practice, how is he going to impress in games? Even Riley and Kristick were talking about a particular scrimmage in fall camp last year where Quizz took a draw play up the middle, between the safties before they could converage, 60 yards for a touchdown. Then he came right back and took a screen pass 60 more yards for a touchdown. McCants just needs to show some spark. He needs a break-out moment. I doubt we'll be seeing him beat safties while running up the middle, but we just need to see something, anything from him. Because I don't know that he's going to get a lot of respect on the field until that happens. And he won't get a chance to prove that he's better than Stevenson or Jefferson while standing on the sidelines. It will probably be mid to late August at the earliest before he even can try to come back.
Just due the the simple fact that Stevenson grayshirted and has been in the program gives him the edge over Jefferson... but it might be just because we've seen him before. Stevenson is a guy who the Beavers would like to redshirt this year in order to put more separation in-between him and Rodgers. Just reading about Jovan's recruitment tells you that he's a guy with all the drive, determination, and dedication needed to succeed on this level, because here's a guy who didn't even think he would be playing college football after high school. Coach Cavauangh found him while he was recruiting someone else. His upside with his good vision, speed, and ability to make people miss in space makes me excited to see him on the field this year, but it seems like the coaches still want to hold out on him for another year. But with McCants questionable, redshirting Stevenson and rolling with McCants as the back-up may put too much pressure on Rodgers.
Ashton Jefferson is a guy with a bit more size than Rodgers and Stevenson, who is known more as a "slasher." He enters fall camp as a freshman, and is another guy that the coaching staff will need to make a decision on. Out of Alvin, Texas, his high school numbers are just gaudy... 1,565 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 0 fumbles in 261 carries a senior, with three 200+ yard games. He looks promising, but again, he's unproven.
If you're coach Riley and had to make a decision now, who do you red-shirt? Who do you have as your back-up going into the September 5 opener?