The Arizona Wildcats ditched the spring game and made a spring practice available to the public. The new format seemed to be effective, giving the audience some of the more entertaining drills and competitions to watch, while making it interactive after each session. We even got a small taste of a scrimmage for about 30 minutes or so, with the offense and defense swapping in and out and running plays from the 40-yard line.
Below are just some more notes and observations from the open spring practice. If there's anything you might have noticed that I did not mention, feel free to add it in the comments section below.
Anu Solomon did not participate
He was held out because of a hamstring injury that Rich Rodriguez was really unsure as to when he suffered it. Had it been a game, Solomon would have gone, so this was more of a precautionary measure to keep him out.
Brandon Dawkins shows he is ready to win starting job
With Solomon on the sideline, Brandon Dawkins ran the show and I loved it. A little inconsistent on the deep ball, not unlike Solomon, but I was extremely impressed with his composure and confidence. Given Solomon's injury history, it seems likely that we'll see Dawkins this season if he doesn't win the job straight up at some point. It should also be noted that Brandon Dawkins leveled Devon Brewer as they met at the goal line.
Quarterback competition showed off some arm strength
To break up the action, Rich Rodriguez had a competition for his quarterbacks to see who could throw the furthest.
Anthony Medina: 53 yards
Brandon Dawkins: 64 yards
Khalil Tate: 72 yards
Jerrard Randall made an appearance and chucked the ball for 67 yards. It should also be noted that Randall didn't even take a step to wind up the throw. He just stood there and threw it. Then Samajie Grant showed up, using his high school quarterback experience, and threw for 54 yards.
Thoughts on Khalil Tate
For being a 17-year-old college quarterback, he did really well. He can make the throws and he has Jerrard Randall-like speed. What might be a problem is his tendency to run. It looked like Tate would look at his first read and then bail if he didn't like what the defense was giving him. He has the speed to make guys miss and even if something opens up while he scrambles he has great accuracy throwing on the run. But he seems to have that run-first mentality for right now, something that is definitely fixable with a little more confidence and knowledge of the routes and defensive coverages.
Arizona's base defense utilizing hybrids
It was a very "vanilla" night for Arizona on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense. Not a whole lot was shown, but it seems that the defense will likely be running out of a 4-2-5. It's hard to tell exactly, because of the versatility of many players in the system, but this is really a multiple front defense with the linebackers being used.
Many were begging for a change from the 3-3-5 and it seems as if they got it. Although in reality, when you look at the personnel, it still has the functionality of a 3-3-5, because that's still a scheme that is necessary to adapt to the Pac-12. I'll address the personnel in the next section here.
Projected starting defense
Arizona will be without Anthony Fotu until week six of the regular season and we're unsure of the status of Tellas Jones, who will not be participating this spring. Jake Matthews is still recovering from his foot injury and has been held out of spring practice thus far. Luca Bruno has also been in a boot for most of spring practice. So as of now, this is rough, but it gives you an idea as to what the first team defense looks like and who some of the rotational guys will be.
Defensive line: Justin Belknap, Parker Zellers, Sani Fuimaono
Linebackers: Cody Ippolito, Paul Magloire, DeAndre' Miller
Secondary: DaVonte' Neal, Dane Cruikshank, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (spur), Anthony Mariscal (free), Jarvis McCall (bandit)
DeAndre' Miller will be able to line up in multiple spots on the field, but he was primarily on the edge in the plays we were able to see. There were some plays where he would line up off the edge, essentially making it a free flowing 3-3-5 if need be. Defense is all about versatility, whether it's a 4-2-5 or 3-3-5 look, and that's exactly what Miller brings. He is a freak athlete, checking in at 6'3", 236lbs, and will be able to fly all over the field this season. Parker Zellers also looked really impressive.
A rough look at the second team defense went like this
Defensive line: Marcus Griffin, Aiulua Fanene, Calvin Allen, Kahi Neves (hybrid)
Linebackers: Jamardre Cobb, Brandon Rutt
Secondary: Jace Whittaker, Kwesi Mashack, Devin Holiday, Devon Brewer, Albert Green
There are a lot of non-participants this spring, as many are dealing with injuries, so take these how you will.
Jamardre Cobb and Marquis Ware on defense
Jamardre Cobb made the switch from linebacker to fullback last season and has now made the move back to linebacker. Rich Rodriguez has said he will still play offense, as he only had about three or four plays designed for him at fullback. But on defense, it seems as if either Cobb has made a big jump, or the depth is hurting badly. I'll go with a small mix of both when you consider Matthews and Turituri being out.
All night Cobb was working with the second team defense at linebacker and towards the end of the night, he made his way to the first team.
His former high school teammate, Marquis Ware, was working with the third team. These two guys have been extremely popular topics amongst readers, as they both came into the program as 4-star talents, suffering and nursing injuries upon their arrival. Keep in mind that both still have three years of eligibility remaining.
Offensive line pretty much solidified
Layth Friekh, Christian Boettcher, Zach Hemmila, Jacob Alsadek, and Gerhard de Beer seem to be the offensive line as of now. Boettcher seems to be the only question mark for now, with Freddie Tagaloa hopefully coming back from his injury before the season begins.
Third-string running back
This spot still looks to be up in the air, but I like the walk-on redshirt freshman Brandon Leon to come out on top. He's just a hard runner and that's exactly what you need to be successful in this system. Since Nick Wilson has taken over, he just hasn't been consistently healthy. He's a workhorse in the offense but when he is held out, the third running back in the system has seen a good amount of carries. Zach Green figures to be the other running back competing for the spot, but Rodriguez has cited his shape and conditioning as a concern for the past two springs now.
Tight ends didn't have a great night
It was a little disappointing to see the lack of tight ends in the offense last season, although Trevor Wood was out with an injury and he is arguably the most skilled. Josh Kern, Matt Morin and Jamie Nunley are all there at the position as well. In some one-on-one coverage drills, the tight ends did not look very good, dropping quite a few passes across the middle. Hopefully that can change as we get closer to fall.
Corners seem outmatched by receivers
Arizona has one of the best receiver sets in the nation, but a lot of times the corners just could not keep up with them. There's a lot of holding and hand-fighting going on when the ball is snapped which could be great if the corners set the tone of a game with their physicality, or horribly wrong if the refs see it more as grabbing than battling for position.
After practice one day, Samajie Grant was telling Marcel Yates that they should put $10 in a jar for every time a corner held him. Judging by the holding I saw, that jar would be filled with a lot of cash. Corners also say that Samajie Grant is the hardest receiver to cover, but I digress.
It seems as if it's Josh Pollack's job to lose as the placekicker. There's Ollie Graybar and Jake Glatting, but Pollack hit all of his field goals and looked far better than the other two. Punter is still very much in the air, with Graybar, Glatting, Pollack and Matt Aragon in the mix.
Returning punts will be DaVonte' Neal and Nate Phillips, who will be wearing number 11 this season. There was no kick-off at the open practice but those two might also be returning kicks, with the potential of Shun Brown and Tyrell Johnson as well.
Shun Brown shows off playmaking ability
Brown is a playmaker and we saw him show off his moves in what was probably the play of the night. There was one play where he took a quick dump pass down the field for a 60-yard score. He made a few guys miss and used his acceleration to find the endzone. Rich Rodriguez said that he felt tackling was an issue, and it definitely showed on that play. Although Brown is a shifty receiver in his own right.
Shun Brown’s nice YAC at tonight’s practice pic.twitter.com/aZYamK2G3r— Matt Moreno (@MattGOAZCATS) March 5, 2016
Moment of the night
This was just too adorable to not share. Definitely the best part of the night, as Rich Rodriguez mentioned as well.