Signing Day preview: Rodriguez's comfort level boosts Arizona class
FEB 04, 2014 4:17p ET
Now building his third recruiting class, Rodriguez stands to sign a group Wednesday currently ranked nationally No. 24 by Scout.com, No. 25 by Rivals.com and No. 29 by 247Sports.com.
Within the Pac-12, UA had been battling in-state rival ASU for the top ranking, but after a couple of decommitments, it now ranks fourth (Scout and Rivals) and sixth (247Sports). Regardless, it's likely the best class Rodriguez has brought to Tucson.
Scout.com national analyst Brandon Huffman, who's based on the West Coast, explains that Rodriguez's staff has hit its stride in recruiting after getting through the transitional period. UA has also owned its back yard, keeping Tucson's top talents in town.
For a deeper look into UA's 2014 recruiting class, FOXSportsArizona.com spoke at length with Huffman this week.
FSAZ: What's happening at UA right now that's led to such a strong class this year?
Huffman: I think itâs a matter of finding their place in the conference, but I think it has more to do with the fact that they're comfortable now. They're locked in. It's not a transition period like it was two years ago. It's not the "getting-to-know" period like last year was. Now they know the schools to recruit, they know the regions to recruit. They now have two years of coaching and a track record of putting players into the NFL or at least getting guys looked at by the NFL. And Ka'Deem Carey is a national name now, so now kids are taking Arizona a little more seriously. So there are a lot of factors at play, but more than anything it's that they're now more comfortable with where they're at in terms of how they're approaching recruiting. The 2012 class was essentially a wash and the 2013 class was still a matter of "Where can we recruit? Where should we recruit?" It kind of looks like they've got all their bases covered now and can go out and recruit a little easier.
FSAZ: How much has this particular group of coaches impacted those efforts?
Huffman: They've done a remarkable job of not just focusing in state. They've done a good job in Tucson, they've done a good job in Southern California, and they've done a good job spreading throughout the west. They've had a couple kids from the East Coast commit, too. I think this staff, because it is so many guys with East Coast ties, there was the question of whether they'd really be able to recruit effectively in the Pac-12 because their recruiting base was not on the West Coast. I think they've answered that question. Probably the most important aspect of it is they got the best player in Tucson (Cameron Denson, WR, Salpointe HS) to stay home. They got him early and then held off other schools that made a push for him. They've done a good job spreading their wings but also realizing and understanding if you're going to compete in the Pac-12, the West Coast needs to be your primary recruiting base.
FSAZ: What need is best addressed by the group of recruits currently committed?
Huffman: I would say they've done a really good job at linebacker, mainly because they got the two Salesian (Los Angeles) kids Jamardre Cobb and Marquis Ware, but then also one from the (junior college) route (Antonio Smothers, Scottsdale CC). Locally, they've done a pretty good job in the secondary, and on the offensive line they've done a pretty good job. They've got two true tackle types and then kind of a combo tackle/guard type in Layth Friekh (Peoria Centennial) where he can play either spot. But easily the strength of this class is at the receiver position. Denson is obviously the big name, but then you've got a couple different types of receivers. Denson and Jordan Morgan (Southridge HS, Beaverton, Ore.) are more of the bigger receivers, and then you've got three speedy guys in Jace Whitaker (Oceanside HS, Oceanside, Calif.), Tony Ellison (Granite Bay HS, Granite Bay, Calif.) and Kaelin Deboskie (Tucson Salpointe).
FSAZ: On the flip side, what might be lacking in this class?
Huffman: I think they probably could have used another pass rusher. They got two juco players on the defensive line and then the one high school kid they got, Sharif Williams (DT, Central East HS, Fresno, Calif.), will likely greyshirt because he suffered a nasty leg break in the first game of the season. So both the defensive linemen they brought in are JC guys, which is great because they're probably ready to play now. Jeff Worthy (DT, Santa Ana CC, Santa Ana, Calif.) was at Boise State so he's already been in a collegiate program. The problem is when you focus on jucos, you still have to balance the class by bringing in some high school guys so that three years down the line you've got defensive linemen.
FSAZ: This class has six junior college players, all of them already signed, which is more than Rich Rodriguez has said he likes to take. What do you believe led to the change in approach?
Huffman: We talked about this with ASU where they went the opposite way this year and haven't focused on the jucos more while Arizona has this year. I think that happens a lot in year three. When recruiting starts to get lax under a coaching staff and you start to have more attrition, you end up having a lull in the second or third year where you realize you've got good upper class talent but you don't have great underclass talent or guys haven't developed. So there are still holes on the offense or defense, and the quickest way to fill those holes is to go the juco route because you don't want to throw in an underdeveloped freshman and stunt his growth altogether. This is where they're kind of reaping what the last two years under Mike Stoops sewed in that there are some key positions where they don't have a lot of talent.
FSAZ: UA is adding two quarterbacks, Brandon Dawkins (Oaks Christian HS, Westlake Village, Calif.) and Jerrard Randall (Northeast Mississippi CC, Booneville, Miss.) to an already crowded field. What do those guys bring to that competition?
Huffman: Dawkins gives them long-term potential. I don't know that Dawkins is ready to be the guy just yet. His sophomore year was probably his best year and then they brought in a new coach and a system that he never really took to, so I think he might need a year or two to develop. The funny thing with Jerrard Randall is when he was committed to Oregon, they had Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota committed -- all three of them at the same time. There was talk then that Randall was the best quarterback of the three and the one Oregon was most excited about. That was part of why Johnny Manziel ended up flipping to Texas A&M. He figured he was likely going to be the odd man out. So Randall came in with a lot of expectations and then flipped to LSU, and they ultimately went their separate ways. So three years ago we were talking about Randall being one of the best dual-threat type guys in the country. They're bringing in a guy that has all the tools but just needs the snaps, just needs a chance.
FSAZ: You mentioned a lot of schools made a strong push to flip Denson. How did UA keep him home?
Huffman: There were a lot of things in play in his recruitment, but the biggest one was that he's a Tucson kid. In a lot of cases, a kid like him is motivated to go outside of the region and then ultimately they're drawn back into playing for the hometown school. They realize they don't want to stray that far from home. I think that's why he committed to Arizona in the first place -- he didn't want to stray far from home. He committed so early that he kind of missed out on official visits and later wanted to see the world a little, but I think he realized there was a reason he picked Arizona so early. And I think a lot of it was civic pride. He realized in the past Tucson has a lost a lot of kids to Pac-12 schools and he wanted to kind of buck that trend.
FSAZ: UA loses Ka'Deem Carey to the NFL and has to find a new starting running back. Can Nick Wilson (Central East HS, Fresno, Calif.) be that guy?
Huffman: I think he can. He's definitely a physical type of back while also being a quick back. I think he could absolutely be a guy that comes in and plays early, whereas with a guy like Jonathan Haden (Friendship Collegiate Academy, Washington D.C.), I don't know that he's necessarily a true running back. Wilson was one of the best West Coast running backs in his class, and I certainly think he could come in and play right away.
FSAZ: On the other side of the ball, how much did it hurt UA to lose top cornerback commit Naijel Hale?
Huffman: If you look at the overall "star" rankings, it's going to hurt because they lose a four-star guy. But at the same time I think they've done a pretty good job in the secondary. They got Kwesi Mashack (Vista Murrieta HS, Murrieta, Calif.), who's a little more under-the-radar type kid. In terms of pure cornerbacks, I think (Mashack's) coverage skills might have been better than (Hale's). Naijel is a better all-around defensive back and better all-around football player, but I think Kwesi is a more pure cornerback. And the sleeper in this class, partially because of his teammates at Central East (Fresno, Calif.), is Devon Brewer. I'm telling you: That kid has a chance to be very good. His ceiling might be the highest of any of the defensive backs they're bringing in.
FSAZ: Looking on both sides of the ball, who looks like they could have an impact right away?
Huffman: I think, obviously, Denson is probably going to have a chance to play right away. He's probably got the best potential of playing early and making an impact. I think Nick Wilson, by necessity alone, has a good chance to play early. And then defensively I think Jeff Worthy. When he came out of high school he was a pretty hotly sought-after defensive lineman, and defensive lineman are at a premium in the West. So he's got a chance to play right away and make a big impact.
FSAZ: Anyone maybe getting overlooked in this class?
Huffman: I would say Devon Brewer is probably the big one there. And again, that's a lot because of who his teammates are. The other guy is probably Trevor Wood (TE, Scottsdale Chaparral), another guy who gets overshadowed by his teammates. What hurt him more than anything was that he missed his junior year with an injury, so a lot of the offers he got were based on projecting him, and then he had a great season. And a lot of times the in-state kids are the less sexy of the recruits you bring in because they're more known quantities. You'd rather be able to say, "Hey, we went to California and scooped this kid," rather than "Look, we kept this kid home," even though I think local kids are the backbone of your program.