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Notebook: Weekly round-up and latest observations from Arizona football’s spring practice

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Lauren Salgado | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona Wildcats wide receiver Jamarye Joiner (10) runs with the football while running back Nazar Bombata clears the way at Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., Dec. 5, 2020.

Notes from Tuesday, April 13

Running back Drake Anderson, who transferred from Northwestern in the offseason, has had a great start to his career at Arizona as he looked very explosive in spring practice so far. He does a good job at finding the open holes in the offensive line and showing his breakaway speed. 

Arizona has struggled at practice so far at handling the ball from the center to the quarterback as they don’t seem to be in tune and on the same page all the time. The quarterbacks in Tuesday's practice also didn’t look very accurate, also the timing with their wide receivers seems to be off as there are still a ton of new players trying to learn head coach Jedd Fisch’s new offensive system. 

Notes from Thursday, April 15

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Fisch noted that next Saturday’s spring football game will be Rob Gronkowski’s first time at the University of Arizona in nine years. This year’s spring football game will be headlined by two former alumni, Tedy Bruschi will be coaching against Gronkowski on April 24. 

“It’s important to establish better connections with the football alumni,” Fisch said. “For me, it was so important to establish connections with the alumni and they're the ones that built this. The foundation of the program and they're the ones that lived through it.”

Fisch’s love for coaching started while attending the University of Florida, and was first given a chance in the coaching world by the legendary coach, Steve Spurrier. 

“I tried to emulate a lot of things that [Spurrier] did in this profession, one of which was always included in our alumni, and the second which is building great relationships,” Fisch said. “You want to see them on the sidelines during games and participate in that manner like they did.”

Will Plummer and former Washington State quarterback, Gunner Cruz, are the top two quarterbacks right now but Plummer seems to be pulling ahead as of late.

“I thought [Plummer] did some good things down the field, we just need more consistency,” Fisch said. “We are not playing consistent, we’re not hitting enough passes and we're not controlling the line of scrimmage the way I expected us to.”

The Wildcats have some more incoming transfer players and freshmen, joining the team in a little over a month as they have yet to finish the school year at their previous college or weren’t eligible to join the program yet. 

Here are some key observations from Arizona’s latest spring practice.

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Plummer and Cruz are now neck-and-neck in the starting quarterback competition

Plummer turned in what was his best practice all spring. He looked very calm and poised in the pocket and made some excellent throws while under duress.

His best throw of the night came in 11-on-11 drills when he connected with tight end Stacey Marshall Jr. on a vertical route in the back of the end zone. It was also one of his best throws all spring as he delivered an absolute dime with multiple defensive linemen in his face.

Plummer has shown improvements in his intermediate and deep ball accuracy over the last several weeks. He was hitting his targets on the post and corner routes consistently and delivered a few darts on go routes. He has shown vast improvement in these areas and proving why he could be more than a game manager at the quarterback position. Tonight, Plummer took a big step forward in the quarterback competition and is certainly making his case of why he should be the signal-caller come early September.

In contrast, Cruz turned in a sub-par performance. He made several bad reads and looked very erratic throwing the football. Some throws were completely off target in which there were quite a few balls that could have been intercepted. Cruz rarely looked comfortable in the pocket and continued to struggle on intermediate and deep-ball accuracy.

In one of the first plays from scrimmage in 11-on-11 drills, Cruz would get intercepted thanks to a ball that was tipped at the line which fell right into the chest of interior linebacker Derick Mourning. 

His struggles would not end there as he went on to throw his second interception of the night which came in 1-on-1 drills. Throwing on the run wasn’t panning out for him either as he missed some short and intermediate throws that should have easily been on target.

After an underwhelming practice, Cruz is now sitting a little behind Plummer in the depth chart. Certainly not a lot of separation between the two, however with Plummer’s very strong showing tonight, he has taken the slight lead in the starting quarterback position for at least a day.

Tight ends will be used a lot in Arizona’s offense

Arizona’s tight end group delivered a very encouraging performance tonight as they were flying all over the field. One tight end, in particular, Marshall, had himself a day as he made several big-time catches. His route running was superb as he was consistently creating separation on his routes and generated strong releases at the line of scrimmage.

His best play of the night was when he beat his man in coverage on a go route and caught a nice thrown ball in the back of the end zone during 11-on-11 drills. His good hands were on full display as he caught all of his targets and made several tough catches in tight windows. He played an instrumental role in run blocking as well as he made some excellent blocks on the outside which provided running backs Drake Anderson and Stevie Rockie Jr. a lot of open space which turned into positive yardage.

The transfer from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas has prototypical size for the tight end position as he stands at 6-foot-5 and weighing 245 pounds. A big body that knows how to use size to get leverage when picking up blocks and creating separation on receiving routes. Expect Marshall to get big minutes this year and become a vital piece to the Wildcats’ offense.

RELATED: Key observations from Arizona football’s latest spring practice on April 8

Leader of the tight end group, Bryce Wolma also turned in a strong performance as he made strong catches over the middle and picked up some extra yardage to add to his cause. His route running was very crisp as he was able to get open with ease.

Wolma was consistently opening up running lanes and blocking defenders at the second level. A tight end that demonstrates excellent blocking technique and who knows how to get underneath the pads of opposing players is a great trait to have as a tight end.

Expect Fisch to utilize the tight ends a lot this year in the passing game. The involvement of tight ends was virtually nonexistent last year but look for that to change in the upcoming fall as they will serve as good compliments in the running game by being big contributors in the air attack.

The defensive line continues to make its mark

The defensive line continued its dominant spring. They were shedding blocks regularly and were getting a great push upfront. They quickly clogged up running lanes and were seen in the backfield on a lot of occasions.

The line was led by defensive standout J.B. Brown, who continued to demonstrate why he’s arguably the best defender on the team. He generated several quarterback pressures and picked up a sack against Gunner Cruz in 11-on-11 drills. Not to mention, he made his presence felt in the run game as he plugged up a lot of running lanes and made efficient tackles that only resulted in short gains.

This defensive line is starting to turn into one of the biggest areas of strength for Arizona. A unit last season and the better part of the 2019 season that failed to generate a pass rush on a consistent basis and always looked pedestrian against the run. 

Now with the presence of one of the best defensive minds in all of college football in defensive coordinator Don Brown, the Wildcats will be vastly improved in defensive line play and look respectable against top talent in the Pac-12. 

Don’t be surprised if this unit turns some heads once September rolls around.


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