Rodriguez looking for consistent punt returner

TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said Monday he wasn’t sure whether he would change his punt returner for Saturday’s game against Colorado.

Two days later, it looks like he’s decided to do so. The starter at the position when the season began, freshman Nate Phillips, will return, with Johnny Jackson as the backup and Richard Morrison in reserve when the Wildcats face Colorado in Boulder, Colo.

Monday, Rodriguez said he was “going to work them like crazy.” Phillips looks like the guy who has emerged.

Jackson had replaced Phillips after Phillips mishandled a couple of punts in the season opener. Jackson had trouble last game, fumbling away a punt and mishandling another. Jackson averaged 8.5 yards per return. Phillips averaged 4.8. Rodriguez is more concerned with the handling of the ball.

“They caught the ball well in practice, but they just have to do it in the game,” said Rodriguez.


For the last month — and longer — Rodriguez has talked about how his team isn’t deep enough at a variety of positions. He added he’d like to have more of a rotation, saying the defensive backfield starters are playing more than he’d like and his offensive line is doing the same.

Ideally, he said, he’d like 22 players ready on each side of the ball with an equal amount of reps. But as it stands now, it’s about 15 on defense and 16-17 on offense.

“If the guys return and develop the way we think and the recruiting class shapes up how we think, we’ll be closer to those numbers,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll be young, but eventually when you know you’ve got a deep team is when you have a handful of seniors and juniors and a few freshmen sprinkled on the two deep.”


Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre is having to rebuild a program that had bottomed out in recent years.

At 3-3 this season, it’s so far so good, and there’s even talk of being bowl-bound if the Buffs can win three more games. Really.

Arizona was able to win seven games last year in Rodriguez’s first season. And then won the New Mexico Bowl.

“Usually the honeymoon just lasts one game,” Rodriguez said. “You win or you find out a whole lot about your team. Sometimes you’re lucky and you walk into a situation you have a lot of great athletes and have veterans returning and you win them all. Most people don’t.”


Arizona has two good Tuesday practices in a row. Last week, the Wildcats had an excellent one and came out to defeat Utah 35-24.

Rodriguez said this Tuesday’s practice was pretty good and Wednesday’s practice was good, too.

“Tuesday is the most important practice we have,” he said. “Wednesday is important but slightly less. Thursday is more mental.”

What does it all mean? Sometimes a lot, sometimes little.

“I’ve had really good Tuesday’s practices and (the team) stunk on Saturday,” he said. “But most of the time when you have a pretty good Tuesday and Wednesday, it’s followed up with a pretty good Thursday. And Saturday you’re sharp.”

Rodriguez said it’s not unusual for a team to hit a “lull” around this time, but the Wildcats avoided it last week.

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