Upcoming spring football season leaves questions
As Valentine’s Day weekend approaches and Tucsonans are busting out the sandals and shorts with the weather gradually warming up, Arizona spring football is upon us. As the new season approaches, questions surrounding the progress of the team will remain a mystery until September.
“We got more question marks than our first year here, but we have some talent,” Arizona football head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “The attitude has been good so far and we got a few new guys to come in and help a little bit with the losses from guys graduating and declaring for the draft.”
Arizona is coming off an arguably disappointing season considering the standard that was set in 2014, with a Fiesta Bowl appearance. The Wildcats finished 7-6 in 2015, so this season will be a new beginning according to Rodriguez.
The scenario of going back to the drawing boards and teaching the basics of football may sound too elementary considering the players are division one athletes.
Rodriguez emphasized having practices that are strictly for blocking and tackling, going into his fifth season at the helm. For the first time during Rodriguez’s tenure at Arizona, the Wildcats will not provide a spring game because of a fresh start for the program. The coaches also want the players to have tunnel vision for the first game against BYU.
“Spring ball is important from a fundamental standpoint, but when you teach a new system, I think it’s got some importance, but the team aspect of it and a spring game is way overrated,” Rodriguez said. “The fundamental part is very critical, but the team part and teaching guys plays is very overrated.”
On the other hand, football fans have the chance to witness the progress of the team. Arizona is having a practice that will be open to the public. Rodriguez still wants to keep the vibe of a spring game, but a spring game seems to be a waste of time.
“Most places, it’s a glorified flag football touch game amongst your backups anyways,” Rodriguez said. “I think it’s good for exposure a little bit if it’s going to be on TV and it’s good for the fans to get a little bit of a spring football fix, but as far as an entertainment value and watching that, I cringed just watching it and I love football.”
There’s no question Rodriguez will play his cards close to his chest this offseason. That could be because he wants to keep his defense the biggest surprise.
Arizona finished the 2015 campaign at No. 113 in the total defensive rankings and gave up nearly 275 passing yards 35.7 points per game. In a pass-happy Pac-12 Conference, getting physical up front in the trenches and closing the pocket is key.
Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates expressed that he can bring an aggressive defense to the table but denied to release further information about other concerns.
“I’ve been seasoned well so I can’t leak those ideas, but the one thing that [Rodriguez] wants is to have a physical defense,” Yates said. “He wants a physical defense. He wants to get to the quarterback and I think we’ll see that in the fall.”
The highly reputable spread offense usually isn’t an issue.
Last season, the Wildcats introduced the tight end and the fullback to the spread offense with players like Josh Kern and Jamardre Cobb. With Cobb switching from fullback to linebacker, Kern coming back for his senior season and Trevor Wood returning from shoulder injury, these players could lead to another dynamic option on offense.
“We’ve got weapons and that’s the key,” special teams coach Charlie Ragle said. “The optimism is extremely high but, as we know, that’s real good in February and hopefully we’re saying the same thing late in October.”
Arizona’s 2016 plans are confidential. Heck, for what the season is worth, a pivotal offseason could place the Wildcats back in the national spotlight and remain there, rather than receiving 15 minutes of fame and returning to the New Mexico Bowl.
Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.