LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Mark Stoops knows you can’t replace Benny Snell but hopes Kentucky can achieve the same goals in the backfield this season and beyond.
Snell was the showcase running back in Kentucky’s offense during the past three years but both parties have moved on as Snell ushers in his professional career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Wildcats have three candidates — A.J. Rose, Kavosiey Smoke and Chris Rodriguez — who are battling to replace Snell in the backfield during fall workouts.
“Benny Snell is a hard guy to replace I think mostly because of his competitive nature and his desire and his drive, fantastic player for us, but we have really good options at running back,” Stoops said. “It's now time for guys like A.J. Rose to step up. Kavosiey Smoke is a young guy that we are very high on. Chris Rodriguez, so we have players there that are ready to step up and fill in.”
Rose described himself as a patient running back with plenty of versatality.
"I can line up wherever,” he said. “I don’t feel like there is a linebacker in the country can guard me one-on-one and when I get the opportunity to showcase that, I will.”
As for the entire offense, Rose said the Wildcats are going to “open it up a little bit more.”
“We’re going to throw the ball a little more and even it out, get the ball into the receivers hands a little more and overall, score a lot of points and win games,” he said. “Each rep (the running backs) get, we’re going to make the most of it. My goal is to keep the offense on the field as long as we can and score more points. … I’m a winner out there and I’m going to do whatever it takes to win — let’s do it.”
As for his own game, Snell advised Rose to simply be himself.
“He told me to go out and compete every play and not lose that competitive nature,” he said. “He told me to just go out there and work hard and the accolades will come. I learned that from him. His heart is unmanageable, so I just want to go out there and compete. .. For the whole offense as a whole, be on the lookout for our offense. We’re getting slept on a lot, but we’re going to wake a lot of people up.”
Although Rose, Smoke and Rodriguez have the edge when it comes to collegiate experience, newcomer Travis Tisdale could also crack the rotation once the season kicks into high gear.
“What I like about (Tisdale) is he's really fast,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “As we talked about where we were with our running backs, we had guys that were 5-foot-11 to 6-2, 200 pounds. Had the big guys. We wanted a different change of speed. We went out and we looked, we found him. He's tough, hard-nosed. … He's explosive. He's got legit speed. He has that Boom Williams type of speed.
"I know he's got toughness from who coached him, where he's from. He's had a great summer. I love his attitude. It's going to be fun to see him get some reps and see what he can do.”
Regardless of who carries the load, Stoops wants his team to develop more intelligence, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
“There's times when a running back needs to rely on his God-given ability and his instincts, make cuts, do things that are between he and God,” he said. “There's other times where he has to understand exactly what's going on, what the situation of the game is, how to get those tough yards, where the holes are going to be, understand that a two- or a three-yard run in certain cases are every bit as big as ripping a long one off. I think that intelligence helped us win a lot of games in four-minute offense.”
He hopes to see that trend continue this season in a year of transition in the backfield.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.