Fall football practice begins as Rodriguez looks to improve team
The Arizona Wildcats finish their first set of drills during football practice at Arizona Stadium on Saturday. The Wildcats have about three weeks to prepare for their season opener against UNLV on Aug. 29.
Despite a handful of questions surrounding the team, Arizona football opened fall camp on a positive note.
“The effort was good and the intensity was good,” head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Hell, we aren’t playing a game for a while so I’m not worried. I would be worried if they weren’t ready and excited to practice but I thought they were really ready and excited to practice, so it’s all good.”
Last year Rodriguez opened camp by questioning if some of the Wildcats had the commitment to be elite athletes. This year he softened his stance when asked about how unhappy he was in 2013.
“Was I?” Rodriguez said. “Some of that I was acting. I’m a pretty good actor.”
Sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright III said a lot of players stayed in Tucson over the summer to take classes and work out together.
“It was a lot of fun,” Wright said. “We’ve been working out all summer and all spring, we finally get out here and run around, get our new plays in and have fun.”
The Wildcats are coming off of back-to-back 8-5, bowl game winning seasons and this is Rodriguez’s third season as head coach. The season opener is Friday, Aug. 29 versus UNLV at home.
“This is going to be a fun team to coach,” Rodriguez said.
Replacing Carey and Denker
Arguably the two biggest question marks entering the 2014 season are at quarterback and running back after B.J. Denker and Ka’Deem
The duo combined to rush for 2,834 yards and score 48 touchdowns.
No quarterbacks were made available for comment after the first practice.
“I think the quarterbacks are a little further along this year than we were last year,” Rodriguez said. “But I know this, B.J. Denker worked his tail off to get better through August camp and I think these guys will do the same thing. I think the talent is there at quarterback, now it’s just a matter of them being more consistent.”
Rodriguez said the recovery of junior Jared Baker, who tore his ACL at ASU last year, is on schedule and he is “full go.”
“We know we got big shoes to fill in for Ka’Deem and we’re all ready to take on that role,” said senior running back Terris Jones-Grigsby. “We take it day by day.”
Rodriguez said the projected first or second stringers will get the most reps at the start of camp, except for quarterback and running back. After a couple of weeks he said they will pair it down to the top two.
While as many as four quarterbacks are thought to be in the mix to be the starter, sophomore receiver Trey Griffey said they worked together before camp.
“Just like we’re trying to get used to them, they’re trying to get used to us,” Griffey said. “We’ve been working together, we’re good really.”
Jones-Grigsby said the backfield competitions push each other.
“We have confidence in our quarterbacks,” he said. “I think we have good depth in quarterback right now.”
Bondurant off the team, for now
In addition to Carey and Denker, the Wildcats will have to replace another leader, senior safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant, who led the team in interceptions a year ago.
After the first practice, Rodriguez announced Bondurant was no longer with the team.
“Tra’Mayne Bondurant had some discipline things that he had to do, and he chose to leave the program, so he’s no longer a Wildcat as of [Saturday],” Rodriguez said. “You can do the discipline and be part of the team, or, I never lock the doors from the inside out. The doors are never locked.”
Bondurant returned to practice Sunday though, and could earn a spot back on the team.
“He had some discipline to do, and he decided to quit instead,” Rodriguez said. “So that’s where we’re at.”
Bondurant started 12 games last year at the spur position, had 72 tackles and 46 solo four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
—Follow James Kelley @JamesKelley520