Arizona football's star receiver Hill injured in practice, Wildcats make adjustments
Spring games are usually designed to send a football team into the offseason on a positive note, but Arizona’s annual scrimmage was marred by the news of an injury to star receiver Austin Hill.
Hill, who led the Wildcats in all major receiving categories, tore his ACL at practice Wednesday and his timetable is still unknown, according to head coach Rich Rodriguez. For an offense already undergoing change, with All-Pac-12 quarterback Matt Scott headed to the NFL, the loss of Hill is a major blow to the UA offense.
“Unfortunately, it’s an ACL tear, which just makes me sick,” Rodriguez said. “He is such a great player … it wasn’t an ACL, MCL and all that. It was just an ACL, but with that said, he will have surgery as soon as possible and get going on rehab.”
“I really felt bad for him, but our guys will bounce back. Austin is a tough, strong guy and he will bounce back.”
Replacing a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist and a player who tied a school record with 11 touchdowns last season won’t be an easy task. Fortunately for Arizona, the wide receiver position is by far the deepest on the team, giving the Wildcats several ways to try and replicate Hill’s production.
Replacement by committee
Rodriguez said a host of guys will have to pick up the slack with Hill injured. Fortunately for Arizona, it has the ability to do so.
If transfer Devonte’ Neal is allowed to play immediately for Arizona, he’ll give the Wildcats an additional boost to the already deep receiving corps.
Still, junior Tyler Slavin said everybody will need to “step it up” to replace Hill. With how Slavin’s been playing recently, he could be that player.
In the final two minutes of Arizona’s dramatic comeback against Nevada in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Slavin caught four passes for 37 yards, including the game-winning touchdown.
Before that point, the season was more than forgettable for the junior, who was known more for his drops rather than production on the field. But Slavin’s first career touchdown came at the most crucial time and he followed it up with a 97-yard touchdown in the spring game Saturday.
“[Hill’s injury] is a sad thing, but at the same time we also can’t dwell on that,” Slavin said. “We have to come through.”
Slavin showed there is still hope after Hill, with his long touchdown reception, but he wasn’t the only one who showed potential.
Redshirt freshman Clive Georges had 72 yards and a score on a game-high five catches and sophomore Johnny Jackson, who’s been one of quarterback B.J. Denker’s favorite targets this spring, had 34 yards and a score.
Recovery through experience
Even with Hill injured, Dan Buckner graduating and Richard Morrison switching to cornerback, Arizona still has six returning players who each had at least one game of 50 yards receiving.
One of those returning is senior Terrence Miller, who was finally granted a fifth-year of eligibility with a medical redshirt, which will give the Wildcats a much-needed boost of veteran leadership. Miller missed nine games in 2012.
“It’s really good to be cleared … now I get my focus back and focus on school and football,” Miller said.
Miller doesn’t have a good past with injuries. He suffered from a lacerated kidney during the previous spring camp and then severely sprained his ankle last season. “Terrence is such a smart guy,” Rodriguez said. “He’ll play outside, he’ll play inside, he’ll play tight end. I think he’s excited about it because it puts him in different positions on the field.”
Miller finished last season with 143 yards on 13 catches. Most of his production came in Arizona’s 24-17 overtime win against Toledo where the senior caught the game-winning score. Miller will be a hybrid receiver for the Wildcats in 2013, and with the loss of Hill, his versatility becomes that much more valuable.
“[My position] doesn’t really matter to me, as long as I’m on the field and can make plays,” Miller said. “Wherever coach Rod tells me to go, it’s my favorite place at the time.”
Just keep running
The easiest way to make up for Hill’s sudden absence is for Arizona to do what it did best last season — hand the ball to Ka’Deem Carey.
“Somebody’s got to step up and make the plays,” Denker said. “Ka’Deem is going to have more to do. He’s going to have to carry the team a little bit. But we can’t look at it as something negative.”
With the question marks still at the quarterback position, and Carey having 303 attempts last season, the Heisman Trophy candidate might hear his number called more often with the offense now in flux.