When Arizona football players first set foot on the field at Jimenez Practice Facility on March 5 for the start of spring ball, their previous body of work was erased and it was back to square one.
There was a new sheriff in town, and first-year head coach Rich Rodriguez wanted each and every player, walk-on or three-year starter, to once again prove his worth.
“We found out what position we were on the first day of spring ball, it was kind of a big adjustment,” said Arizona linebacker Jake Fischer.
Rodriguez ran the players into the ground to weed out the slackers. He implemented his complex schemes to test their knowledge of the game.
And after about a month of some serious highs and lows, Rodriguez has molded this mix of players into his army of men, and that progress will be on display on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Kino Stadium for the UA’s annual spring game.
How far have the Wildcats come since that first practice on March 5?
“It’s night and day in the last couple of practices from the first practice,” Fischer said. “We didn’t know what we were doing at the beginning. Everybody is getting better everyday. There’s not one time you can throw on the film and see a person didn’t improve, even if it’s slight.”
Rodriguez was never shy about Arizona’s low starting point. He canceled post-practice interviews because he said players didn’t practice well enough to talk to the media.
He once kept his players in the locker room instead of practicing so that he could go through each and every play from their first scrimmage, ripping into individual players for their mistakes.
Rodriguez and his staff counted every player’s errors during practice and made them do up-downs in front of the media for each mistake they made.
It wasn’t always pretty, but Rodriguez said the Wildcats eventually made some strides and their struggles weren’t out of the ordinary.
“If I would have taken notes from all the other four or five places I’ve been, I probably would have laughed at how familiar it really is, some of the struggles we’ve had,” Rodriguez said on Wednesday. “I think we’ve made progress.”
Rodriguez and his squad have the chance to showcase their improvements on Saturday when the new UA contingent will debut its high-octane offense and 3-3-5 defense to the Wildcat faithful.
Arizona is far from a finished product, however. Rodriguez jokes that he still doesn’t have a depth chart. Aside from quarterback Matt Scott, no player has really solidified a starting spot, and they most likely won’t until fall camp.
But Rodriguez said most of his schemes are fully installed and Wildcats fans will get a taste of what they’ll see next fall. Although there are still several moving parts, Rodriguez has his first chance to show the public what he’s done with this crop of players in front of what’s expected to be a solid crowd at Kino.
“Exposing the program is what coach Rod is all about right now,” said UA center Kyle Quinn. “On Saturday we expect a lot of fans to show up and we’ll put on a great show for them.”