Arizona football spring game preview: filling in those open spots
Not much can be decided about football in the spring — the depth chart is in flux, the freshmen have yet to arrive and the calendar is still closer to the Gildan New Mexico Bowl than the season opener against Northern Arizona. Still, the Wildcats’ final scrimmage this school year, the Spring Game on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Sancet Stadium, has some storylines to hammer out before football goes into its extended hibernation.
Answering quarterback questions
All-Pac-12 Second Team quarterback Matt Scott, the first Wildcat to ever win that honor, is off working on his NFL draft stock. The man who came before him, current Philadelphia Eagle’s quarterback Nick Foles, holds nearly all of the career and season quarterback records in Tucson.
It’s fair to say the bar has been set pretty high.
Next in line for the job is B.J. Denker, who made one start last year against Colorado and several appearances in backup duty as well.
The senior has yet to prove he’s a college quarterback, though, and the Spring Game will be his last opportunity to make that statement before junior college transfer Jesse Scroggins gets healthy or freshman Anu Solomon arrives in camp.
Denker has improved throughout the spring, but head coach Rich Rodriguez said at the final spring practice Wednesday that the offense still leaves something to be desired.
“The offensive progress hasn’t been what I hoped it [would] be at times,” Rodriguez said, “but we have pretty high expectations because of the way the bar was set last year as well.”
Wide receiver David Richards, who was limited during spring because of a broken foot, said the offense needs to show the same sort of intensity the defense did during the final few practices if it wants to reach last year’s level.
“I think we just have to come out here with a new attitude,” Richards said. “I know we lost Matt Scott, and I think the quarterback has to step up. I think everybody around us has to step up, and we have to come out there and compete.”
He added that the offense is waiting for a quarterback to go out and win the job — that’s exactly what Denker will try to do Saturday.
Improving a lackluster defense
While the Arizona offense is losing Scott, the defense is bringing nearly everyone back.
But that might not exactly be a good thing for a defense ranked No. 102 in points allowed and No. 118 in total yardage.
“If they’re returning and not better, we’re going to have the same problems,” Rodriguez said. “They have to be better than they were last year, and I think they understand that.”
The Wildcats’ explosive offense and overall pace distort the defensive numbers from last year. Football Outsiders’ Fremeau Efficiency Index, which adjusts for opposition and speed of play, puts Arizona’s defense at a much more average rank of No. 68. Still, with the offensive losses, the defense will need to vastly improve if Arizona wants to make a second-straight bowl.
“We need to make a lot of strides defensively in understanding what we’re doing and how we want to play,” Rodriguez said. “From that regard, I’ve been really pleased with [the progress we’ve made].”
Safety Jared Tevis agreed that the defense performed well during the spring, giving it a B rating. Considering all the injuries the Wildcats have suffered on that side of the ball, with six starters missing all of spring, the defense might be going in the right direction.
“We’re doing well, and we’ve had a lot of days with high intensity, like [Wednesday],” Tevis said. “We can still get to another level.”
Backing up Ka’Deem
The 2012 season couldn’t have gone better for Ka’Deem Carey, the NCAA’s leading rusher. The offseason couldn’t have gone worse, as Carey is still awaiting a pretrial hearing on charges of disorderly conduct and assault.
“Ka’Deem has had a lot to prove both on and off the field, and so far, the entire spring, he’s shown that,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve limited some of his reps in scrimmages, and we’ll limit them Saturday because we know what he can do. At the same time, he wants to do more, and he’s worked really hard.”
Last year Carey had just one attempt in the Spring Game, and Rodriguez said jokingly his workload “might be less.”
What the Spring Game will actually find is the No. 2 option at running back after senior Daniel Jenkins transferred to Washington State. Senior Kylan Butler, sophomore Jared Baker and several others will all vie for the backup spot Saturday.