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Observations from Arizona football's latest spring practice

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Lauren Salgado | The Daily Wildcat

The Arizona 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)

The Arizona football team held their latest spring practice on Saturday, April 3. Head coach Jedd Fisch was pleased to hold practice in Arizona Stadium for the first time and understands that the team still has their work cut out for them.

“It’s good to be on the stadium field,” Fisch said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us right now. I guess I’ll watch the tape and see if I’m wrong, but I doubt it. We’ve got to put on a better performance than that.”

Here are some observations from the Wildcats’ spring practice.

Gunner Cruz takes the lead in the starting quarterback competition

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Redshirt freshman Gunner Cruz successfully created separation from Will Plummer in the starting quarterback race. He delivered a solid performance at practice overall. He demonstrated good pocket awareness and made some efficient throws on the run. When under pressure, he completed good check-down throws to the running backs and made several nice intermediate throws to his receivers for good positive yardage.

Despite his good outing overall, it didn’t come without some struggles. During 11-on-11 drills, Cruz threw an errant throw right into defensive back Isaiah Rutherford’s hands that would have been a pick-six in a real game. He would follow with a fumble after a poor snap from center. However, these miscues would barely put a dent in Cruz’s claim for the starting job thanks to Plummer’s poor outing on Saturday.

All afternoon, Plummer would overthrow his receivers on hitch, comebacks and go routes. He barely completed the deep ball as his deep ball accuracy is something he will need to fix moving forward. He appeared rattled in the pocket as he could never get in a good rhythm throwing the football. 

Plummer's underwhelming afternoon would carry over into 11-on-11 drills as he struggled to move out of the pocket and make accurate throws. His pocket awareness was lacking as he was sacked three times. He either overthrew or underthrew his receivers and tight ends on intermediate and deep routes. The only passes he was able to complete were simple check downs to running backs and slant routes to his receivers and tight ends.

Cruz took the lead in this quarterback competition as he looked poised in the pocket and delivered accurate throws while under pressure during 11-on-11 drills. He made smart decisions of knowing when to remain or get out of the pocket. He completed efficient short and medium throws, occasionally delivering an accurate deep ball as well. These were all intangibles that Plummer couldn’t do consistently.

Boobie Curry will be a problem for opposing defenses

The sophomore from Houston, Texas has ideal size for a receiver at 6-foot-2 and weighing at 206 pounds. He was limited to a small sample size last season in which he only posted 10 receptions for 89 receiving yards. Despite this lack of production, Curry gave a strong indication during practice that he’s in for a breakout season in 2021.

Curry is one of the fastest players on the team and can beat defensive backs on routes with pure speed. He makes excellent cuts and breaks on his routes and can generate solid separation. This was on full display during red-zone drills when he was consistently beating defensive backs on fade, slants and go routes. Not to mention, he broke a run to the outside for 30 yards out of the backfield during a pitch handoff in 11-on-11 drills.

Arizona has a speed demon on their hands and can be a true difference-maker for them not only as a slot and vertical receiver but as a weapon in the backfield as well. If wide receivers coach Kevin Cunningham can unleash Curry’s untapped potential then Curry can be an integral part and big-time offensive catalyst for the offense this upcoming season.

Defense continues to prove why they will be the anchor for this team

Arizona’s defense has continued to show out in spring practices. During 11-on-11 drills, they made the offense’s run game virtually nonexistent as they consistently plugged up running lanes and were always getting a good push upfront. They forced running back Drake Anderson into a fumble after a great push and jump off the ball into the backfield.

Defensive coordinator Don Brown’s tendencies to dial-up blitz packages at a high rate were on full display at practice once again. The defensive front seven were constantly getting in the backfield and harassing Cruz. They made every throw difficult thanks to a barrage of quarterback pressures. Redshirt junior Jalen Harris continued his impressive spring and showed why he can be one of the better defensive linemen in the Pac-12. He displayed great explosiveness off the ball and registered several quarterback pressures. 

The front seven were aided well by the defensive backfield as they were all over the field on Saturday. Defensive back McKenzie Barnes had an impressive outing as he registered multiple passes defended and was excellent in press coverage. Rutherford turned in a strong showing as well as he rarely let receivers get leverage on him and create separation on their routes. Right now, Barnes and Rutherford are fighting for the number two cornerback spot with Christain Roland-Wallace being the clear number one no matter how he performs throughout the rest of spring practices.

The defense has given a strong indication so far this spring that they will be the strongest area of the team. Don Brown has proven that he was the right hire for the defensive coordinator position as he has already demonstrated that he knows where to put his players in the right positions to have the most success. His exotic blitzes will only benefit this unit and create more opportunistic plays for its playmakers in the secondary.


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Updated April 12, 2021