It's no secret that the wide receiver position is one of the Arizona Wildcats' strongest groups. Cayleb Jones and Samajie Grant are the stars of the group, but I think there's one guy that has been overlooked this offseason: Nate Phillips.
Phillips had an outstanding freshman season in 2013. He led the Wildcats in receiving with 696 yards and seven touchdowns. He ended the season with a bang too, as he had nine catches for 193 yards in Arizona's 42-19 win over Boston College in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl. He was B.J. Denker's number one target, and an instant impact player. For a true freshman, Phillips' appeared to be a mainstay for years to come in the Arizona offense.
The 2014 season rolled around and Phillips did not enjoy the same success he did as a freshman. He finished the year with just 272 receiving yards and two touchdowns in nine games. He was forced to miss the last five games to injury after having in-season foot surgery, and then had to get shoulder surgery at the end of the season.
The injuries obviously made it difficult for him to repeat or build on his freshman season, but even when he was on the field, his production didn't match that of his freshman year. Though the additions of Cayleb Jones and DaVonte' Neal and the return of Austin Hill naturally made it tougher for him to get the same opportunities he had as a freshman.
With all the injuries and time away from the game, it was important for Nate Phillips to have a strong offseason, and by all indications, he has done so.
"Nate has been consistent all camp. He is a veteran guy who knows what we are doing," Rich Rodriguez said.
For Nate, however, simply getting back on the field was a great feeling.
"It feels good to be back out on the field," he said. "The coaches have worked with me on some of my individual stuff. Going live after last year feels good. It has been good getting connected with the offense again. We have a lot of chemistry this year."
Part of the reason their chemistry has been so good is because he and Anu would work together during the summer to get a better feel for each other. Something they did without instruction.
"That’s the biggest thing this summer because the coaches can’t be out there, so it’s all on us to get that chemistry coming into camp," Phillips said.
In Saturday's scrimmage, their work in the summer was evident as Nate had two touchdowns and seemed to have more targets than any other receiver. The slot receiver looked quick and his routes were sharp. Because of his experience in the system, he was able to work on becoming a better player rather than having to get adjusted to the offense.
"It's a grind, but I've been refining my skills more instead of learning the offense and find[ing] a place," he said.
I think the most important thing to take away is that he's healthy. Phillips mentioned that he has not been restricted at all during fall camp. His health, improving skills, experience in the system, and chemistry with Anu Solomon give him a good shot of returning to the type of player he was as a freshman.
As if opposing defenses didn't have enough receivers to worry about on this Arizona team already.