It’ll be another four months before Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez sees his team play in pads and go at one another before UA’s first game against Northern Arizona in late August. But his second spring session with his Wildcats has come and gone. And to say it was a bit strange would be an understatement. Practices were depth-challenged. More than a dozen players were out because of injuries or ailments.
“I have never had that many guys out with surgeries, so it hurts in the evaluation process and it hurts a little in the development standpoint,” Rodriguez said in a post-spring-practice interview. “What it does now is make the first three weeks in August that much more critical.”
When his Wildcats return, it’ll be like a whole new group, and fundamentals and development will be priorities.
It’s reason enough for Rodriguez to say that if he were to give UA’s spring practice a grade, he’d give it an incomplete.
“That’s the perfect grade,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m glad we did some things and saw some things, but it was the most incomplete spring that I’ve had in a long time.”
But there were some positive things and obvious concerns. FoxsportsArizona.com will highlight each side of the ball in the next couple of days. First the offense:
Rodriguez made it a point to rarely wax poetic on anyone specific all spring, preferring to wait for the fall to get more critical or give more acclaim.
He did, however, say he saw improvement in potential starting quarterback B.J. Denker, who will attempt to follow in the footsteps of former UA quarterback Matt Scott.
“I thought he got better,” Rodriguez said. Rodriguez added he won’t know about the quarterback situation until late August, but he was pleased with Denker’s progress. Transfer Jesse Scroggins got stronger and healthier in camp but has some catch-up to do.
“B.J. has some experience, but we want that to be a competitive situation all the way until the week before the first game,” Rodriguez said.
Other candidates were wide receiver Terrence Miller, who saw some time the tight end spot, and offensive lineman Chris Putton, who “emerged as a leader.”
ON THE RISE
Because Arizona was so slim on numbers it gave a number of players a chance to take the spotlight, such that it was. Rodriguez said Josh Kern showed signs of life after moving from quarterback to H-back. “He’s a guy who has got a really good future,” Rodriguez said. “Clyve Georges had some pretty good days at wide receiver, as did Trey Griffey.”
POSITION OF STRENGTH
There’s little doubt it’s the wide receiver spot, where as many as five or six receivers could emerge. But the talent level took a serious hit when junior sensation Austin Hill suffered an ACL injury just a couple of days before the spring game. He’ll be out indefinitely. So who will emerge?
“We have enough guys with Miller, Tyler Slavin, Garic Wharton and David Richards and (Johnny) Jackson who all have experience,” Rodriguez said. “And we have some young guys that will come in this August.”
POSITION OF CONCERN
All of them, Rodriguez said, and “that’s not just coach speak.”
The reason is because Arizona has little to no depth. That will change in the fall when everyone reports, but the offensive line “is a huge concern right now,” he said. AUDIBLES
Former offensive line coach Robert Anae took a job with Brigham Young University and was replaced by veteran college and NFL assistant Jim Michalczik (muh-hall-CHECK), who was at the University of California most recently.
“I’ve been really pleased Michalczik,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a new guy in the system with some good ideas. Right now he’s honing in on the fundamentals and I’ve seen some positive results already.”
HELP ON THE WAY
Given the depth concerns, Rodriguez estimated that more than half of Arizona’s incoming recruits could compete for playing time in the fall. The marquee name in the group is quarterback Anu Solomon, but their are needs throughout the depth chart.
“I’m really pleased with the group,” he said. “But until they show up you don’t know. But I really think over half of the incoming freshman and new guys will probably be playing. That’s a high number, but that’s where we are at. This is a class that will help us right away.”