Arizona football holds successful team scrimmage, KidCats event
The Kevin Sumlin era officially kicked off at Arizona Stadium on Saturday, April 7 in a sneak preview of the Wildcats upcoming Spring Game.
Arizona football hosted its first scrimmage under the new regime, allowing coaches and players to get a feel for one another before the annual Spring Game set for April 14.
Saturday’s scrimmage marked the first time that the media and fans were able to witness the development of Heisman hopeful Khalil Tate, and the new order of Arizona football in action.
Several offensive and defensive units rotated throughout the day, focusing on situational drives and special teams. Despite a relatively light practice schedule – with limited repetitions - both sides of the football flashed glimpses of midseason form.
Tate immediately gave the crowd a reason to applaud after connecting 45-yards downfield with redshirt senior receiver Shawn Poindexter on the first play from scrimmage.
The electric quarterback looked sharp on nearly every throw - twice expanding the pocket and delivering perfectly placed balls in the corner of the end zone.
Tate’s biggest criticism will come during the fall when opposing defenses game plan against stopping Arizona’s rushing attack. By then, Tate should feel more comfortable going through his progressions and throwing intermediate routes.
Similar to last season, Tate’s strength in the passing game appears to be his touch on deep throws. Now it’s just a matter of syncing his eyes with his arm, and continuing to quicken his release.
Other offensive standouts from Saturday included a pair of running backs, the first being former 4-star recruit Nathan Tilford.
Tilford shared the backfield with the speedy J.J. Taylor on more than one occasion. At times, it’s evident that the sophomore tailback has the potential to put the team on his back. There were several plays were Tilford exploded into the open field and instinctually made defenders miss.
However there were also a number of plays were Tilford still looked raw. He doesn’t boast natural hands out of the backfield and often catches himself running in front of his shoulder pads, rather than behind. These are certainly areas will Tilford can improve, but whether or not he does will determine the tailback’s workload come the fall.
The best surprise of spring practices thus far might be redshirt junior Anthony Mariscal.
In his first spring competing in the offensive backfield, Mariscal enjoyed a stellar performance. The converted safety made several punishing runs before punching in the rock from about 10-yards out. He even put the juke moves on his former family of defensive backs.
On the opposite side of the ball there was plenty to be happy about, starting with a constant flock of defenders flying to the football.
Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates has clearly made it a priority for his players to swarm to the ball carrier. As a result there were very few broken tackles, or blown assignments for the defense.
First-unit cornerbacks Jace Whittaker and Lorenzo Burns both handled the competition well. Aside from allowing the first completion of the afternoon, Burns managed to lock down his offensive teammates. On the opposite side, Whittaker was just as big of a nuisance for the Arizona quarterbacks. His tackling has also noticeably improved since last fall.
Other defensive standouts from Saturday were safety Jarrius Wallace, and defensive tackle Finton Connolly.
Wallace delivered the biggest blow of the afternoon along the offensive sideline. He quickly closed in on running back Brandon Leon, who had just collected a swing pass, and laid the wood. The impact of the hit was easily heard from the press box at the top of the stadium.
Connolly got involved later on by blowing through the offensive line and tackling Leon two-yards deep in the end zone for a safety. The redshirt junior from Gilbert, Ariz. will look to make larger contributions this season, after garnering some playing time last year.
It should also be noted that the offensive line still needs time to gel together. Several starters graduated, opening up spots to the left and right of All-Pac-12 honorable mention center Nathan Eldridge. The defense on the other hand will look to continue challenging themselves, and holding each other accountable.
Saturday’s scrimmage concluded with a KidCats Club event that allowed Tucson’s youth to connect with some of their favorite stars.
All in all the first Arizona football scrimmage was largely considered a success. Spring might be in the air, but the season is on everybody’s mind.
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