Arizona spring football: Offense shines at Friday's open practice

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Damn the receivers are good....and big....and fast

Friday's spring practice for the Arizona Wildcats was made open for observation, and there were certainly some impressive things to observe, starting with the new group of wideouts.

For nearly an hour, the Wildcats were full contact (including QBs), and the offense dominated the defense for the most part in this hour.

"I thought today was kind of an uneven performance," Rich Rodriguez said after the scrimmage was over.  "We weren't overly physical, we had a couple of turnovers, and I didn't think we were as impressive as we were in the last scrimmage."

The huge difference between watching last year's team and this year's team is the sheer size at wide receiver.  All of the sudden Austin Hill is back, Cayleb Jones is eligible, Clive Georges looks a lot bigger, and Abraham Mendivil adds another body over six feet to the mix.

"Those dudes got an advantage cuz they're bigger," DaVonte' Neal joked afterwards.  "They can move guys more than we can.  We're gonna be finesse, trying to juke you, and those guys just run through you and I applaud that."

"If I were two inches taller, I'd be doing the same thing."

Hill is practicing with a brace on, but coach Rodriguez says it's not hampering him at all.

"Austin's running full speed," Rodriguez said.  "I think there's always a period where you want to get your confidence back, and it looks like he's getting all his confidence back."

For the most part, the quarterbacks played well on Friday, led by Anu Solomon and Connor Brewer.  If I had to put odds on it, those two are definitely the two favorites heading into fall, with Jesse Scroggins not too far behind them.

And RichRod has really loved what Solomon has done this spring.

"He's had a good spring," coach said.  "He's got himself squarely in the mix.  When your red-shirting, you almost mentally take the year off, but we've reminded him that year's over, and it's time to compete."

"He's made really great progress," RichRod continued.  "The inconsistency has been a concern with some of the guys but for (Solomon), it's been a nice, steady progress."

Don't expect any resolution on the QB or RB situations anytime soon, and coach even said that the RB competition might go through the "first game or two".

But with some of the packages that Arizona showed at practice on Friday, there will be a lot of sweep plays ran to either DaVonte' Neal or Samajie Grant.  Neal took one of those sweep handoffs for about 20 yards.

The big play of the day came when free safety David Price absolutely lit Neal up on a crossing pattern about midway through practice.  It was a huge hit that got everyone in the building fired up, including the recruits and parents that were visiting.

"It was a really good hit by David Price," Neal said.  "He came down right when he was supposed to and made the play on the ball.  I didn't make the catch, but it motivates me to make those kind of catches."

"It's not just the hit," added Jonathan McKnight.  "We should already have that fire in us before the scrimmage starts.  We should already have the enthusiasm in our body before the scrimmage even starts."

Having this group of WRs also helps the secondary get better each and every practice.

"Me going against Cayleb Jones makes me better and makes him a better receiver," McKnight continued.  "Going against Austin Hill, DaVonte', all those guys makes us a lot better all around."

"We've got more athleticism around the whole receiving corps than what I've seen since I've been here."

Special teams

The most consistent place kicker on the day was Jack Flatau.  I did not see him miss a kick during field goal formation drills, while other kickers were missing by a lot.

At kick returner and punt returner, I expect DaVonte' Neal to be the guy there.  The sheer speed he brings to that position could be a game-changer next season.

"That's my goal," Neal stated.  "My goal is to be on both kick return and punt return, just doing anything to help this team."

Offensive line

Only one starter does not return from last year, and that would be guard Chris Putton.  One potential replacement for him is redshirt freshman Jacob Alsadek.

"Honestly, at the beginning I was a little mad I was red-shirting," Alsadek said after practice.  "But I think having that extra year has really helped me out a lot.  It's a lot easier now."

"Things come naturally now."

Other QB notes

One thing that really stuck out to me today was how often Connor Brewer goes to RichRod in between reps and groups compared to the other QBs.  I don't want to read anything into it, but it certainly seems like him and coach have a great relationship at this point.

And Brewer obviously has previous experience playing with Cayleb Jones at Texas and DaVonte' Neal at Chaparral.

"I love Connor Brewer, but all the quarterbacks are our quarterbacks," Neal explained.  "I show them all the same respect.  I do love Connor Brewer, that's my guy, but at the same time, they're going out their competing just like we're going out there and competing, and coach is going to put the best guy on the field."

Jesse Scroggins had a Tebow-esque jump pass for a TD in the scrimmage too which was fun and drew the ire of defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.  Casteel was very upset to say the least about how the defense handled the broken play.

Khari McGee was having a lot of issues today, and Rodriguez got on him hard at some points during practice.  McGee is also starting to learn WR, so maybe down the line expect to see McGee split out wide instead of behind center.

Another guy who had a tough day was David Richards.  Don't know if that's just a one day thing or not, but he was definitely not having his best practice.

Non-participants

A few guys were walking stadiums with yellow jerseys on, denoting that they were unable to participate in drills.  The two main ones were DB Patrick Glover, and RB Myles Smith.

Overall impressions

The offense has the potential to be scary-good.  Whoever is at quarterback this year, whether it be Brewer, Solomon or Scroggins, has a lot more weapons than B.J. Denker did last season, and a lot more overall size on the outside.  Running back will be a question, as will the front seven of the defense.  The defensive line and linebackers left a lot to be desired.  There's no way the secondary was going to be able to cover the receivers for as long as they had to without any pressure up front.

But I'm a lot more excited about football than I was before seeing this practice.

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