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Arizona football: Spring practice notes and observations

A couple of items from the first two days of spring practice

The Arizona Wildcats got through their first two days of spring practice, trying to forget about the 2015 season, ready to bounce back for 2016. The team will have this week off as far as official practices are concerned. They'll hit the weight room on Monday and Wednesday and meet with position coaches on Tuesday and Thursday. The reason for the week off? Rich Rodriguez is headed to a Nike event in Hawaii, where he will meet with about 25 other head coaches from across the country.

I was able to go to the first practice, which was open to the media for the first half of practice. After practice, we spoke to Rich Rodriguez, Trey Griffey, Anu Solomon, Brandon Dawkins and Cam Denson. The second day was closed off to media, but afterward, we spoke with Rodriguez once again, Marcus Griffin and Paul Magloire. Here are some notes and observations on the first two days.

New format of spring practice going well thus far

Rich Rodriguez wanted to get back to basics with this spring camp. He's focusing these practices more on fundamentals and understanding each position. It also helps the new defensive coaches evaluate their players and see what they're working with, before any sort of decisions will be made.

New culture change on defense

There just seems to be a new feel, particularly on defense. With an almost entirely new and younger coaching staff, there's a renewed energy coming from the defensive players. Paul Magloire said that with the younger coaches they're able to relate to the team a lot better. Marcus Griffin had said that the goal is to bring the fun and swagger back to the defense, which wasn't really present in 2015.

Younger guys to watch out for

Carrington Vaughn, Dane Cruikshank, Anthony Mariscal -- all have been noted by some of the older guys on defense. I would expect Anthony Mariscal to push for some playing time early this season.

No depth chart for Arizona

There's only a position chart. This early in the spring, Rodriguez feels that there is no need for a depth chart. The position chart will help them see where the team stands and where they can move guys around.

Khalil Tate can throw really far

Rich Rodriguez said Tate threw the ball about 75 yards in a competition after practice. This is a good sign. While people are quick to judge his accuracy, simply because of his dual-threat nature, I felt like it's the speed of his throw that needs improvement. He can air it out, but what I'll be interested in seeing is his ability to fit a ball into a tight space.

Brandon Dawkins determined to make a run for the starting job

The theme of the entire interview was carrying forward the momentum from the Arizona State game and pushing Anu Solomon for the starting job. While Rodriguez has all his confidence in Solomon, being the two-year starter, Dawkins has proved to the coaches that he should be taken seriously and might have a shot at earning the starting job down the road.

Third-string running back spot still available

Rich Rodriguez noted that Nick Wilson and Orlando Bradford will be the one-two punch in the backfield, but the third-string spot is still wide open. Rodriguez cited Zach Green as the potential third, if he can get into shape. Given that it's his third year in the program and the pace that Arizona runs, it's a little concerning that a running back hasn't been in shape. Rodriguez also mentioned walk-on running back Brandon Leon as a guy who could even get some looks.

Cam Denson still learning defense

Got a chance to talk to Cam Denson after the first day of spring practice. He said that playing wide receiver is what makes him happiest. While he doesn't feel completely comfortable, still needing to learn the offense and the ways of receiver once again, this is where he feels he belongs. His biggest adjustment this spring will be getting his routes crisp and timing with quarterbacks down.

Offensive line depth

Coaches have spoke very highly of Gerhard de Beer and Keenan Walker. While Keenan Walker hasn't done much to show he's ready to play, given the fact that he hasn't put pads on yet, the coaches rave about his athleticism, toughness and nastiness.

About seven guys snapping for the starting job

The main three to watch out for are Zach Hemmila, Levi Walton and Nathan Eldridge. After the first spring practice Rich Rodriguez had said that Hemmila was likely the guy on top, but has stayed away from any sort of depth chart talk, going with more of the position chart.

Defensive line

It's still not at the size Rich Rodriguez wants to be, but he said that will be addressed in the coming years. For now, it's still unclear as to what kind of scheme Arizona will be running, so it's hard to tell who will be playing where and what type of guys they plug in.

Arizona hit with early injury

Redshirt freshman tight end Brion Anduze suffered a pretty gruesome leg injury during the first day of spring practice. Rodriguez had said he has been checked out of the hospital and is back at home resting.

Arizona's next spring practice will take place on Saturday, February 20th. The "Spring Game" is slated for March 4th, but don't show up expecting a true scrimmage.