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Notebook: Observations from Arizona football's latest spring practice

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Lauren Salgado | The Daily Wildcat UA football team practicing for the first time in the fall semester since the pandemic at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz., Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. (Daily Wildcat Photo/Lauren Salgado)

Head coach Jedd Fisch and the Arizona football team held another spring practice in full pads on Thursday, April 1. This team is still building and is early in the Fisch tenure, but you can feel a difference in the energy and execution on the football field. 

Here are a few observations from the Wildcats’ most recent spring practice.

The quarterback battle is on full-display

There is still a quarterback battle, but I think there is an obvious leader at this rate. Unless USF transfer Jordan McCloud makes huge leaps in a short amount of time when he gets to Tucson this summer, I think Gunner Cruz will be the man under center when the Wildcats open up against BYU in Las Vegas.

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Cruz had a really solid day topped off by a beautifully touched pass to Stanley Berryhill III in the corner of the endzone, even throwing it on the move as the pocket collapsed. Cruz showed much more ability than I ever expected which could be a major added factor for Fisch’s offense. 

To add onto Cruz’s solid day, battling quarterback Will Plummer had himself a pretty terrible one. Consistently overthrowing go routes, throwing outs out of bounds and having very shaky feet in the pocket, Plummer looked a little out of place.

The wide receiver position is full of talent and depth

Wide receiver Berryhill is going to be a major Pac-12 breakout candidate this season. The offense is clearly game-planning around Berryhill’s route running and pure speed. He has also been one of Cruz’s favorite targets so far. A lot of Arizona’s success on offense this season will come with the explosion that Berryhill provides. 

As Berryhill is standing out so far in the spring, his fellow wide receiver room is as well. Wide receivers' coach Kevin Cummings was a high-level hire in the offseason and he is proving it as well. Tavian Cunningham, Boobie Curry and Jalen Johnson have all been standouts as well. The battle for the two outside positions will be very intense as I assume Berryhill will man the slot. If I had to pick right now, I think Cunningham will man the Z-spot while Johnson grabs the X. That is a higher-level group in the Pac-12 with good depth as well. 

Arizona is actually going to use the tight ends

Arizona fans can relax a little and stop begging because Fisch is utilizing tight ends. After a full era of a head coach verbally admitting to refuse to use tight ends and then proving that on the field, it is refreshing to see the variance. 

There were a good amount of two-tight end sets used in the red zone and scrimmage portion of practice with Stacey Marshall clearly being a point of emphasis to target in short-yardage situations. UNLV transfer Alex Lines has been used a lot and especially as a line-tight end, almost as an extra blocker. 

RELATED: What they said: Arizona football’s first spring practice is in the books

Don Brown’s defense is living up to the hype

Defensive coordinator Don Brown is getting lots of praise from his fellow assistant coaches and you can see the excitement the defense believes it has. There is a lot of shifting and movement on the defensive line pre-snap, and he is definitely living up to his “Dr. Blitz” nickname. The defensive line will need to be noticeably productive for this unit this year and there is one potential star on this unit named Jalen Harris. 

Harris looks like a man amongst boys in practice with his freak size and speed. Harris single-handedly closed a pocket on Gunner Cruz, getting around the left tackle and recording an untouched sack. 

Defensive backs coach Chuck Cecil got a bit choked up talking about the walk-on safety Jaydin Young. Young and Malik Hausman look like the starting safeties at this moment and Young seems poised for a big season based on the comments of his coaches. Freshman corner Isaiah Rutherford also stands out with obvious talent and I would not be shocked to see his career at Arizona begin at the starting spot at cornerback next to Christian Roland-Wallace. 


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