Kentucky football will be without one of the most prolific running backs in program history for at least the opening game of the 2022 season.
Senior Chris Rodriguez, who pleaded guilty in July to operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, is not available for Saturday’s opener against Miami, Ohio, head coach Mark Stoops said Monday in his weekly press conference.
Stoops would not confirm that Rodriguez is suspended and would not discuss the running back’s condition beyond the first week. He declined to say whether Rodriguez’s absence is related to the DUI arrest or something else.
Although Stoops said he expects “some (players) to have multi-game suspensions,” he declined to confirm that any individual players are suspended, citing player rights. In addition to Rodriguez, Stoops confirmed that linebacker Jordan Wright, a projected starter absent from the opening depth chart, is among the unavailable players.
Stoops said he suspects “maybe” an unavailable player will return for next week’s game in Florida, but declined to elaborate, saying he will “address him next week.”
Stoops admitted that he is not the only one making the decisions regarding the availability of his players. Earlier this month, UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart said resolving Rodriguez’s status would be “a collective decision.”
“I’ve been attuned to this situation for a while,” Stoops said. “I haven’t been holding back. It’s just that things change. … Things evolve, things change. Information comes and goes. There are different layers to things. That means there are multiple different entities involved. I prefer not to delve further into it. I’m not holding back anything. I’ve been pretty much in tune with how I felt things were going to happen, but I have bosses and they have bosses and so on.
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Rodriguez was arrested shortly after 3 am on May 8 and charged with driving under the influence and reckless driving. According to an arrest report, Rodriguez was pulled over by a University of Kentucky police officer after his vehicle was seen traveling south on Nicholasville Road near campus without its taillights on and failed to stay in its lane. appointed.
Rodriguez pleaded guilty to operating a motor vehicle under the influence during a pretrial hearing on July 5, online court records show. The guilty plea requires him to pay a $200 fine plus more than $700 in court costs by December 13. His driver’s license will be suspended for four to six months in Kentucky.
Rodriguez, a native of McDonough, Ga., ranks sixth on Kentucky’s rushing yards list (2,740) after rushing for 1,379 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. The senior is 1,133 yards behind Benny Snell Jr.’s school record (3,873), but he faces an uphill climb to eclipse that mark with suspension looming.
Who are Kentucky Football’s options as a running back without Chris Rodriguez?
At the start of fall training, freshman offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello said Kentucky would move closer to running back “a little bit by committee, no matter what.”
Without Rodriguez, that committee includes seniors Kavosiey Smoke and Ramon Jefferson, an FCS transfer from Sam Houston State; juniors Mike Drennen II and JuTahn McClain; and redshirt freshman La’Vell Wright.
Smoke and Jefferson were the starter and backup, respectively, in the UK’s first depth chart, released on Monday.
Smoke was Rodriguez’s primary backup during the 2021 season, rushing for 416 yards and four touchdowns on 81 carries. McClain was second to Rodriguez in receptions from the backfield with six, and no other running back caught more than two passes.
“I like the group, but it’s unproven,” Scangarello said. “That will be one of the great things to come out of this camp. We’ll see who earns the right and the ability to play it more.”
Jefferson, who rushed for 1,155 yards and 13 touchdowns with Sam Houston last season, received high praise from starting quarterback Will Levis as he prepares to make the jump to the SEC.
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Levis has described the 5-foot-10, 215-pound Bronx native as “a bowling ball” and “a mighty little mouse.” Jefferson’s NFL partner, according to the quarterback, is Doug Martin, a running back who played seven seasons in the league after a college career at Boise State.
“He’s got a good feeling,” Levis said. “See, it bounces it when it’s supposed to; it cuts when it’s supposed to cut.”
Drennen, who had 17 yards and a touchdown on seven carries last season, also has potential to line up as a slot receiver. The 5-11 running back said he’s not sure where Scangarello prefers him on the field, but said the coach knows he’s “very good at both.”
A three-star prospect out of North Hardin High School, Wright offers a close approximation to Rodriguez’s combination of size and skills. In four games during his redshirt season, the 6-foot, 217-pound player rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown on nine attempts.
Given Scangarello’s desire to find more ways to involve Kentucky’s versatile running back stable in the offense, the RB1 title may be a formality in Rodriguez’s absence if the Wildcats opt for a matchup-based rotation.
“Everyone is a little bit different, which is what we like,” Scangarello said. “We put people in situations to play to their strengths. And so we’ve got roadrunners and pass catchers, we’ve got some hitters and we’ve got some guys with some speed, some guys that will run you over. So it’s a good group.”
Contact sportswriter Brooks Holton about recruiting and trends at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @brooksHolton. Contact Louisville basketball reporter Brett Dawson at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BDawsonWrites