Day one of fall camp in the books, Kevin Sumlin and Grant Gunnell have high hopes
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone calls a play during a fall camp practice on Oct. 9, 2020. Photo by Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star
Coming into the restart of this 2020 college football season, the Arizona Wildcats have had to start the first day of camp without their head coach, Kevin Sumlin, due to his testing positive for COVID-19 last week. Sumlin is keeping his head up and is optimistic of a quick return.
“I have another assessment in the morning,” Sumlin said. “I don’t sound terrible so it’s not as bad as it could be.”
Arizona is four weeks away from opening weekend on Nov. 7, so coach Sumlin being back on the sidelines certainly plays a huge factor in how well this team is prepared.
After losing Colin Schooler, Scottie Young Jr. and Tony Fields II — all of whom were starters from last season — Sumlin said senior linebacker Anthony Pandy stepped up in practice by leading drills and communicating with the young players.
With such a limited number of linebackers left on the roster, Sumlin and defensive coordinator Paul Rhodes have been forced to switch up their defensive scheme.
“We talked a lot about nickel maybe being our best package based on the guys who’ve played,” Sumlin said.
Playing in the nickel package would allow the Wildcats to only play two linebackers at a time, a reasonable fix to a potentially big problem.
Sumlin announced that two of his players have opted out of the season with running back Bam Smith and defensive end JB Brown. Sumlin also said that wide receiver Jalen Johnson has been suspended indefinitely for violating Arizona’s team COVID-19 policy.
Starting sophomore quarterback Grant Gunnell has stayed positive and continued developing his game.
“This offseason was huge for me, I made huge leaps, … not just the offense, but as a player," Gunnell said. "My feet, my arm strength and my mental of the game has made a tremendous jump."
Gunnell also talked about the challenges of starting and stopping preparation for the upcoming season multiple times so far.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been hard, but it's more just disappointing at times,” Gunnell said. “The team has never been closer since I’ve been here. I think this is the biggest thing — for us to mesh as a team.”
One of the most important things when putting together a group of players is that they all get along and work well together, but also having a quarterback that can be vocal and bring the team closer plays a big part.
Gunnell has seen the different people and media outlets predicting them not to win a game. His response?
“We don’t take that seriously at all, that’s like a joke to me," Gunnell said. "I feel like we are going to shock some people. Our defense and offense looked amazing.”
The Wildcats are going into the season with an underdog mentality. This year is about developing their young players and proving their doubters wrong.
Follow Ryan Wohl on Twitter