As sad as it is for UK fans to hear, Benny Snell is gone. He’s taken his school records 48 career touchdowns and 3,873 career rushing yards (and his whirring mouthpiece) to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While Kentucky is losing a lot of veterans next season, including their entire starting secondary, Snell’s presence and leadership will be sorely missed. Therefore, the dilemma facing the Cats’ coaching staff is how they can replace Snell’s production. Although, according to Cats associate head coach Vince Marrow, replacing Snell may not be as difficult as people think.
“I think I told a guy… I said, ‘it may sound funny, the two positions on offense everybody talking about is tight end and running back,’ and I said, ‘we might be better, potentially better, at them two positions. And I got a text from C.J. [Conrad] and Benny when I said that,” Marrow said.
Losing 4-star athlete Wandale Robinson—who could have been a contributor in his first season—to Nebraska means Kentucky has one less weapon at running back. Therefore, the Cats will most certainly have to make up Snell’s contributions by committee.
With only four players listed as running backs, and three of them redshirt freshmen, the Cats are not only inexperienced but also lacking in depth. Also, the amount of time Snell spent on the field was a double-edged sword for the Wildcats as his backups rarely saw the gridiron.
On the bright side, all four backs will have at least a year at UK under their belt and, thanks to the new redshirt rule, two of the three redshirt freshmen have seen some in-game action.
Redshirt freshmen Kavosiey Smoke and Christopher Rodriguez Jr. appeared in two and three games, respectively, with Rodriguez rushing for 43 yards on two carries against Murray State and Smoke rushing 45 yards on four carries against Louisville, including a 37-yard Touchdown run against the Cardinals.
Fellow redshirt freshman Tyler Markray didn’t see the field last season but could step up if injuries become a problem. Marrow believes that the young players have the capability of producing for the Cats, especially Rodriguez.
“When we watched his film, I said he might’ve been the closest to Benny,” Marrow said of Rodriguez. “He’s a downhill [runner], not gonna move out your way… but he’s got a little jitter to him. But he’s a tough, tough running back.”
However, the brunt of the work in the backfield will most likely be carried by junior A.J. Rose. The Cleveland, Ohio native played in all 13 games last season and totaled 442 yards and five touchdowns on 71 carries, including a team-best 75-yard score against Louisville. He also tallied eight receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown against Georgia.
For Kentucky to have a running game remotely resembling last year’s, Rose has to produce for the Cats. He won’t be alone, however, and Marrow says that the coaching staff, specifically offensive coordinator and running back coach Eddie Gran, will have the team poised for success next season.
“I think [with] A.J. Rose, all you gotta do is look at his yards per run, and he can take it the distance anywhere, and Smoke is another guy,” said Marrow. “Ya know, Eddie Gran is a good running back coach—that’s what people don’t understand. He’s a good running back coach, had a lot of first-round picks at running back.”
What is clear regardless is that Marrow believes UK’s run game will be solid, and hopefully that confidence will become infectious and make his predictions a reality.
“Just watch these guys,” Marrow said, “cause it’s gonna be a sight.”