The Arizona football team held their eighth spring practice on Thursday, April 8.
The team practiced without pads today as head coach Jedd Fisch wanted his players to be fresh mentally and physically with a scrimmage looming on Saturday, April 10.
“It was an interesting day today, we took the pads off as you all noticed,” Fisch said. “[We] wanted to get ourselves really mentally and physically ready to go for Saturday. It’ll be a good one, I hope everyone comes out for it. I think we’re allowed to have 1,500 people. I hope we get all 1,500 in there.”
Here are some observations from Arizona’s latest spring practice.
Running back group showing why they’re the strongest position group on the team
The running back group, led by sophomore Drake Anderson, displayed a strong showing during Thursday’s practice. Anderson stood out as broke for several 30-yard gains in 11-on-11 drills. He showed exceptional vision and patience, knowing when to explode through running lanes at the right time and made commendable jump cuts that helped him gain extra yardage.
The transfer from Northwestern continued to post a strong spring camp and is staking his claim of why he should be the starting running back come fall. He has the ideal size for the position at 5’11” and weighing 184 pounds. His agility and speed make him an ideal asset for the offense and will quickly become a fan favorite amongst fans. During his three seasons at Northwestern, he has amassed over 228 carries for 926 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
Stevie Rocker Jr. has given Anderson excellent competition for the starting running back job so far this spring. He put on a superb showing on Thursday as he made a lot of defenders miss thanks to elusive jukes, sharp jump cuts and exploding through running lanes when they would open. The Tucson native has put everyone on notice and provides excellent depth to an already impressive running back group.
Gunner Cruz and Will Plummer sit atop of the quarterback room
Gunner Cruz, the transfer from Washington State and a member of head coach Fisch’s first recruiting class at Arizona, demonstrated to everyone on Thursday why he could start under center for the season opener against BYU on September 4. Cruz continued to show strong awareness of the pocket and good decisions when throwing the football.
When the pocket collapses, he remains calm and makes split decisions to either throw or tuck and run with the football. He made some very impressive throws during 11-on-11 drills. He completed a throw through a tight window in the back of the end zone which was certainly one of his best throws of the day. His best throw came on a go route to the end zone. Unfortunately, the catch was ruled incomplete as the receiver failed to maintain possession of the ball as he was falling to the ground.
Cruz registered a good outing throwing the football; however, it wasn’t without some hiccups. He struggled all practice trying to hit his receivers on corner and post routes. He would either underthrow or overthrow them entirely. His biggest blemish came when he threw a pass right into the chest of defensive back Christian Rolland-Wallace, who read Cruz’s eyes the whole way and made a great break on the ball to come away with the interception.
Will Plummer failed once again to gain any ground on Cruz in the starting quarterback competition. He consistently threw uncatchable balls to receivers on curls, digs and out routes. Not to mention, a lot of his throws came with a clean pocket which is a very alarming sign. His throwing release was too slow at times which made it easy for defensive backs to break on the ball and make plays. He even fumbled the ball at the line of scrimmage during one instance. In fairness, his performance wasn’t awful as he did make some solid intermediate throws to tight ends and receivers on comeback, flat and slant routes during the 11-on-11 drills.
Cruz has proven that he is the clear-cut favorite to win the starting quarterback job. However, if he wants to be a difference-maker for Arizona and not just a field general, he will need to improve his intermediate and deep-ball accuracy. If he doesn’t clean up these areas, then it will be another long season for the Wildcats. Arizona can’t afford to rely too heavily on the run game and be a one-dimensional offense.
Arizona is still far from where they want to be
It was evident since the beginning of his hire that Fisch would have his hands full in attempting to turn the program around. It’s a tall task in taking over a program that just went through an abysmal season that saw them go winless. It’s going to take time and patience before we start seeing positive results from this team.
Despite all the good that came out of Thursday's practice, there are still some areas Arizona will need to clean up.
During 11-on-11 drills, there were some missed block assignments by several offensive linemen that resulted in either hurried throws or runs that went for negative yardage. A few of the linemen at times forgot to pick up their blocks at the second level which may have resulted in extra positive yards for the running backs. The offensive linemen will need to improve their communication and make sure everyone is aligned with their blocking assignments.
Special teams are a widely overlooked phase in football. The name of the game is field possession which largely will determine the winner of the game. The Wildcats will need to sure up their kickoff coverage as they had several lapses resulting in big returns by kick returner Isaiah Rutherford. The gunners must be more aggressive moving forward.
Quarterbacks need to be better at completing intermediate and deep throws. There were too many instances where Cruz and Plummer would either overthrow or underthrow their targets on the go, post and corner routes. Both quarterbacks were given considerable time to throw in the pocket without any duress for most of practice but still managed to deliver uncatchable throws. If they can improve in these areas then the Wildcats have a good chance, at the least, posting a respectable record for the 2021-2022 season.
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