Back to basics for Arizona football this spring
Larry Hogan / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Shut up and work.
That’s the motto for the Arizona Wildcats football program in head coach Rich Rodriguez’s second season.
The Wildcats commence spring football practice on Saturday morning, and with it, a very early start to the 2013 season. Last spring, Rodriguez had only just been hired and didn’t know many of his players.
Luckily, Rodriguez said he got the immediate support of the senior class, and its leadership enabled a razor-thin Arizona team to go 8-5, including a win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl.
Last spring, Rodriguez and his coaching staff were rushing to teach players a system many had never seen on either side of the ball before. The Wildcats were inconsistent offensively and defensively, which led to upsets over USC and Oklahoma State but also lopsided road losses to UCLA and Oregon.
This spring, Rodriguez and the coaching staff will be focusing on the fundamentals of the game more than the scheme. Unfortunately, there are “about a dozen guys” who won’t be able to participate in the 15 practices Arizona is allowed to hold.
“The biggest difference is we know our guys,” Rodriguez said Tuesday. “We know what we have here, and we know what we need to work on. There will be some practices where we won’t do a single team period at all. [Injuries are] another reason we won’t be doing a lot of team periods.”
One of the unavailable players Rodriguez spoke of is transfer quarterback Jesse Scroggins, who has been on campus since January and will compete with 2012 backup quarterback B.J. Denker for the starting spot.
This season is a rarity for Rodriguez, who has had the likes of Denard Robinson and Pat White at the quarterback position at Michigan and West Virginia, respectively.
Scroggins is unavailable for spring practices because of foot surgery that Rodriguez said could have been done earlier in his career.
“We had a choice. We could have tried to play with it, but we’d rather have everybody at 100 percent in August,” Rodriguez said. “We’re not sure what he can do. He won’t be in any full-contact practices, but he will be able to sit in meetings and learn schematically what we want to do.”
At July’s preseason media day, Rodriguez joked with reporters that the best thing the coaching staff before him did was redshirt former quarterback Matt Scott, essentially gifting Rodriguez his starter. Scott went on to pass for 3,620 yards and 27 touchdowns while adding another 506 yards and six scores on the ground.
Denker passed for 259 yards and three touchdowns, most of which came in his start against Colorado because of Scott’s concussion.
The lack of experience favors competition in spring practices, which Rodriguez always likes to see.
“It’s not so much about finding a starter; it’s about finding guys we can win with,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know if we’ll have that answer after spring.
“B.J. Denker has proven himself a little bit. He’s got to get better, but I know he’s working pretty hard. I’m anxious to see how much better he’s gotten.”
Whoever does win the starting quarterback job, he will benefit from the services of consensus All-American running back Ka’Deem Carey, who led the NCAA in rushing last season with 1,929 yards and 23 touchdowns, as well as a deep and versatile receiving corps.
Seven current Wildcats caught passes from Scott last season, with Austin Hill leading the way, catching 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Terrence Miller and Dan Buckner both graduated from the program, removing some of the senior leadership from a season ago as well as shortening the average height of the group. Both Miller and Buckner were listed at 6-foot-4.
“[Receiver is] the position we’re most comfortable at now,” Rodriguez said. “We have guys we know can play and have a good rotation there.”
Carey still in good standing with Rodriguez
On Tuesday morning, Rodriguez addressed Carey’s future.
Carey has faced his share of legal troubles this season, including a domestic violence dispute with an ex-girlfriend at the home the two shared and a spat with campus police at a men’s basketball game for refusing to leave the game, despite not having any tickets.
“He’s progressing well, and he’ll be with us this spring,” Rodriguez said. “His process of making sure he shows the true person that he is is still ongoing, but he’s doing well. We’ve got close tabs on him, and he knows that. He knows he’s made some mistakes and has to prove what kind of person he is.”