A look back at Rich Rodriguez's first spring at Arizona

Two sports reporters dish out their opinions on who stood out, position battles, disappointments and remaining questions after head coach Rich Rodriguez’s first 15 practices in Tucson

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Will Ferguson and Will Ferguson | The Daily Wildcat Will Ferguson / Arizona Daily Wildcat The University of Arizona football team held a scrimmage at Kino Memorial Stadium Saturday, April 14, 2012.

Offensive standout

Quarterback Matt Scott

With his dual threat skill set, we all knew Scott had the talent of a top-tier Pac-12 Conference starting quarterback. Most everyone believed he could grasp Rodriguez’s spread option attack as he ran basically the same offense at Centennial High School in California. After showcasing his arm and speed against Washington and UCLA last season, it’s no surprise Scott did exactly that yet again this spring.

What’s been most impressive is Scott’s leadership. Players and coaches alike say he’s been a leader and true professional all spring long. Scott has vowed to stay in Tucson all summer to improve and soak up the offense, and he’s done everything he can to put himself in a position for a big senior season.

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Defensive standout

Safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant

Bondurant picked up exactly where he left off last season, coming out of nowhere when Tim Kish took over for Mike Stoops. He’s proved to be the perfect fit for the “spur” position in defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel’s 3-3-5 scheme and continued his playmaking ways.

Despite every player starting from scratch this spring, Bondurant still held off players like Marquis Flowers and solidified himself with the starting unit. Rodriguez and Casteel like Bondurant’s versatility and love for the game; the hybrid safety linebacker loves his new system. It should be the perfect marriage.

Position battle

No. 1 receiver

In an ideal world, Dan Buckner would use his 6-foot-4, 214-pound frame to grab hold of Arizona’s No. 1 receiver spot and team up with Scott to form one of the best receiver-quarterback duos in the conference. But based on his mediocre spring and the emergence of less heralded players like walk-on Johnny Jackson, Buckner has yet to take that step.

Buckner has all the tools, but he has a batch of hungry receivers right behind him. With Buckner, Jackson, Richard Morrison, neck injury-plagued Austin Hill, Tyler Slavin, and Garic Wharton, Arizona has a solid group of talent at the wideout spot.

Biggest disappointment

Safety Adam Hall’s ACL

Defensive backs are key in Casteel’s 3-3-5 scheme and Arizona lost one of its most experienced DBs in the spring game when Hall tore his ACL. The Wildcats managed to escape the spring fairly injury-free, but the loss of Hall could really hurt.

The big hitter clearly wasn’t a favorite of the Rodriguez regime. He ran with the twos and Rodriguez brushed off his injury as if it wasn’t a big loss. But Hall still would have brought a much-needed presence to the secondary that Arizona will miss next season.

Biggest question mark

Linebackers

Arizona gets Jake Fischer back from an ACL injury, which is a huge bonus. The Wildcats also added the nation’s leading tackler in Brian Wagner. But aside from Wagner and Fischer, Arizona is extremely thin at linebacker.

The Wildcats started 18-year-old early enrollee C.J. Dozier all spring and after him have Rob Hankins, who was a deer in the headlights as a true freshman last season, and Dame Ndiaye, who’s never played a game at linebacker in his life. The UA certainly has some talent at linebacker, but depth and experience figures to be an issue moving forward.

– Mike Schmitz

Offensive standout

Receiver Johnny Jackson

Before spring, nobody outside of the Arizona locker room knew who Johnny Jackson was. But since then, the walk-on receiver from San Diego has done more than just earn himself a roster spot.

Looking up and down the roster, it’s hard to find a bigger surprise this spring than the 5-foot-10 speedster.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez named Jackson one of the biggest standouts in the spring, and for good reason. Jackson may have earned himself a spot in the wide-open receiver rotation with a combined 14 receptions and 173 yards in three spring scrimmages — including five catches for 90 yards in Saturday’s spring game.

Defensive standout

Safety Jared Tevis

At the start of spring, Jared Tevis was better known for his actions off the field than on it, as he was one of five players allegedly involved in a campus-area brawl and was charged with trespassing.

One month later Tevis has, for the time being, put those off-field issues on hold to become one of the most impressive players on a struggling defense this spring. With Adam Hall expected to lose the 2012 season to another ACL injury, the 5-10, 198-pound walk-on and Tucson native is expected to play a larger role. In the spring game, Tevis recorded five tackles and one pass breakup.

Position battle

Cornerback

Receiver is probably the most interesting battle going forward with the emergence of so many unknowns, but don’t overlook the secondary. Jonathan McKnight, widely considered the team’s top cover corner, missed all of last season with an ACL injury and was held out of most drills this spring as he continues to recover.

The question of whether or not he will be at 100 percent won’t be answered until the fall. Arizona also received a blow when Cortez Johnson decided to transfer. Without them, junior Derrick Rainey has emerged as a potential starter. With good speed and size for a corner at 6-foot-1, 183 pounds, Rainey should push an inconsistent Shaq Richardson for playing time.

Biggest disappointment

Receiver Dan Buckner

The senior receiver, who played his first season for Arizona last year after transferring from Texas, was expected to be the UA’s No. 1 receiver and fill the void left by Juron Criner. It’s still early, but Dan Buckner did nothing to cement his status as the top receiver this team needs him to be.

In all likelihood he will be the team’s No. 1 receiver on the depth chart come September, but considering the emergence of guys like Tyler Slavin and Garic Wharton, don’t think for a second that Rodriguez will hestitate to pull Buckner from the lineup.

Biggest question mark

Suspensions

Offensive tackle Fabbians Ebbele and corner back Jourdan Grandon were both indefinitely suspended after the start of spring for their role in the same campus-area brawl as Tevis. Both were expected to be key contributors in this upcoming season, especially Ebbele at right tackle.

But what happens if they both are convicted of assault and trespassing? What happens if Justin Washington, Tevis and Eric Bender-Ramsay are found guilty of trespassing? Does Rodriguez kick them all off the team, or suspend them?

The absence of Ebbele has led to the emergence of redshirt freshman Jacob Arzouman at right tackle, but starting a freshman on an O-line that is protecting the only quarterback on the roster with NCAA Division I experience is a scary proposition to say the least.

– Zack Rosenblatt

THEY SAID IT

“I think it’s been a good spring, a very productive spring from the standpoint of us evaluating what we have as coaches. The players are learning something.”

– Rich Rodriguez,
UA football head coach

“I think it was overall successful. I think everybody bonded during the spring that we really needed everybody learning a lot. It was a lot harder and faster than what we did last year.”

— Ka’Deem Carey,
Sophomore running back

“Going into the summer we just need to work on some things, tighten up, fine-tune, you know, and basically just get some leadership and keep going from where we left off.”

— Kylan Butler,
Junior running back

“Players … now is the time, they have to take more ownership in the team in terms of leading voluntary workouts (in the summer).”

– Rich Rodriguez,
UA football head coach

“One, get used to the heat again. Two, continue to grind, continue to get better, be in the best shape when I come back in the fall and hopefully earn a spot and then win the Rose Bowl.”

– Tevin Hood,
Junior defensive tackle


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