What we've learned from Arizona football's spring practices
Rich Rodriguez using spring as the time to evaluate the roster
Will Ferguson / Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA Men’s football
The season doesn’t start for another five months, but the Arizona football team has been playing since mid-March when spring practices started. The Wildcats have held six practices and two scrimmages thus far, and the main thing learned about this team is that it’s way too early to evaluate Arizona as it tries to adjust to the new scheme implemented by head coach Rich Rodriguez.
Throughout the spring, Rodriguez has emphasized that this period of practices and scrimmages is mainly for educational purposes and for finding out what type of players he has.
“We’re still in evaluation mode and we will be all the way up until the last practice of the spring,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll get every scrimmage, every practice we’ll get an idea of who’s ready to play. Every practice now and the first two weeks of practice will be huge evaluation days as well.”
So, in the spirit of evaluation, here is what we have learned so far during the spring:
If Matt Scott gets hurt, Arizona is in trouble
Rodriguez and co-offensive coordinator Calvin Magee have both expressed how impressed they are with the play and leadership of senior quarterback Matt Scott. The success, or failures, of the 2012 season likely fall on the shoulders of the Corona, Calif., native. If Scott gets hurt, don’t expect Arizona to make much noise in the Pac-12.
To say there is a lack of depth at the quarterback position would be an understatement. Behind Scott, who redshirted during the 2011 season, there is Richard Morrison, a converted receiver, and two sophomore walk-ons in Alex Cappellini and Tyler D’Amore.
There are two freshmen coming in the fall, both from Texas, in Josh Kern and Javelle Allen, but the idea that Arizona may have to rely on a freshman quarterback doesn’t inspire confidence.
The fact that the Wildcats can’t afford to lose Scott to injury has made it pretty clear that Rodriguez won’t be able to run the ball as much through his quarterback as he has in the past with the likes of Pat White and Denard Robinson.
Allen has the right skill set for this offense — he ran for 1,497 yards and 22 touchdowns his senior year — but he is still just a freshman and without any experience in Rodriguez’s complex system.
The Wildcats have weapons
At practice on Monday, Magee giddily talked about the talent-laden backfield he has to work with, and for good reason. At the top is Ka’Deem Carey, a talented sophomore that ran for 425 yards and six touchdowns in his freshman year and in the Rodriguez spread-option offense he has the potential to break out in a big way.
Behind him, Daniel Jenkins is a speedy runner who didn’t get many touches last year, but capitalized when he got the ball, averaging 5.7 yards per carry on 31 carries. Jenkins was a standout in the Wildcats’ first scrimmage in Glendale, Ariz., with 81 rushing yards. Carey and Jenkins, combined with Kylan Butler, make up what Scott likes to call the “three-headed monster.” The depth doesn’t stop there, as Arizona also has power in fullback Taimi Tutogi and senior tailback Greg Nwoko.
At receiver, Arizona might not be as deep as it was last season, but talent-wise, the receivers are no slouches. Dan Buckner and Austin Hill were two of Arizona’s best playmakers in 2011 when given the opportunity, and speed demon Garic Wharton has opened some eyes in spring ball. Walk-on Johnny Jackson and sophomore Tyler Slavin have had solid springs as well.
No depth (chart)
In pretty much every interview Rodriguez has conducted with the media this spring, he has indicated that there is no depth chart right now, and there won’t be for a while.
“I don’t even know if we’ll have a definitive two-deep,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll have a general idea of what guys we think are ready to play but there’s going to be a lot of young guys getting a chance again this fall.”
Last year the Wildcats lost Jonathan McKnight, Greg Nwoko, Adam Hall, Willie Mobley and Jake Fischer to torn ACLs and, other than Hall, they all missed every game. Most of the five have been participating this spring, but lingering effects of the injury have kept McKnight out of most drills.
Injuries to linemen Mickey Baucus and Jack Baucus, along with the suspension of tackle Fabbians Ebbele, have left the Wildcats ultra-thin in the interior, forcing offensive line coach Robert Anae to give guards Chris Putton and Eric Bender-Ramsay reps at the all-important left tackle position that protects Scott’s blindside.
Rodriguez might not have a depth chart, but a lack of depth at most positions means Arizona can’t afford to lose five key players to ACL injuries again.