LOS ANGELES -- The meat and potatoes of Arizona's Pac-12 Media Day has already come to light -- Juron Criner is ready to go, Mike Stoops isn't surprised the Wildcats were picked fourth in the South and he has high hopes for an entirely new offensive line.
But Stoops also touched on some other topics in his one-on-one session with the Tucson media. Here are some notes and quotes from Stoops on Alex Zendejas, Arizona injuries, the state of the program, and more.
Zendejas and Salazar Will 'Start Even'
Arizona fans may not have to put up with blocked PATs for another season. Stoops said that place kicker Alex Zendejas and junior college transfer Jaime Salazar will "start even" in training camp.
The job is up for grabs and Arizona will put more emphasis on a kicking game that "led to our demise" last season, according to Stoops.
"We'll try to do more intensified drills with those guys to compete more live," Stoops said. "We'll probably spend more time than in the past trying to get those guys ready for the season."
Stoops said Zendejas has "showed signs" but needs to find a way to capture "consistent consistency."
Stoops Acknowledges Arizona's Need to Jump Into Elite
For years Arizona's flirted with elite status, only to fall flat on their face right before the finish line. They seemed poised to make the jump last season, but then lost their final five games in fairly embarrassing fashion.
Stoops realizes that the Wildcats need to make that leap of faith into the "Great"category -- and they need to do it soon.
"We need to go to the next level of this program," he said. "We've established ourselves as a good team but we want to be a great and elite team and there's certain things we need to get better at and continue to grow this program."
Stoops Breaks Down Criner and Buckner
It's no secret that Arizona's biggest strength next season will come in the form of its receiving corps, namely Criner and Texas transfer Dan Buckner. Stoops rambled about the differences between option 1a and 1b: ,
"Juron has a little quicker feet. Dan's a little more of a long, rangy guy," Stoops said. "They're a little different. Both can run. We get Juron the ball in a little different ways. They're both big and physical but Juron has a little more shake. It will be interesting to see. I haven't seen Dan play live except for scrimmages. It will be interesting to see him compete in games."
ACL Quartet Making Progress
Arizona suffered a huge blow in Spring Ball when the Wildcats lost four players (two starters) to ACL tears. Starting safety Adam Hall and starting strong side linebacker Jake Fisher are the major losses, while injuries to running back Greg Nwoko and defensive tackle Willie Mobley made matters worse.
Hall was coming into his own entering his junior season, while Fisher continued to make strides, not to mention his loss leaves Arizona very thin at linebacker. The injured Wildcats are expected to return by mid-season, and they're on schedule according to Stoops.
"They're doing good. We won't know for another month. It will take us 30 days to start to look at a return rate. They're gradually running right now but getting into hard cutting gets tough," he said. "They're on schedule but we've just got to wait and see.
"I think they're all doing well but I think probably Hall and Fisher will have the best chance of coming back the soonest. I would say somewhere mid-October."