Rich Rodriguez has learned a thing or two after watching injuries decimate the Arizona Wildcats the last two seasons.
Mostly that he needs to play more guys. So he said he’s going to force himself to do that this season.
“That’s hard to do as a coach when you think a young guy’s not ready, but we have to force ourselves to play more people on defense and play more people on offense,” he said. “If we don’t, it’s all back on us as coaches. We’re going to do it.”
Not only will it help Arizona cope with injuries, but also make UA’s players fresher throughout the game and provide invaluable experience to players who otherwise would be standing on the sideline all game.
“We’ve had so many guys hurt and if you’re playing a bunch of them … they’re going to get experience,” Rodriguez said. “All of a sudden if you’re not playing a guy and then the third or the fourth game of the year he’s thrust into extensive playing time for the first time, he’s going to be playing like a rookie. So we have to force our guys, if nothing else, to prepare for the depth that we’re going to need throughout the season.
“The last couple years our lack of depth and lack of preparing for the lack of depth has really hurt us.”
Here are more notes from the first two days of training camp
The injury bug has bitten the Wildcats already, as senior linebacker/defensive end DeAndre’ Miller suffered a foot injury during the offseason
Miller is out for the foreseeable future, but Arizona hopes to have Miller back in time for the season opener on Sept. 2. As for who will replace him on the edge, defensive coordinator Marcel Yates really isn’t sure.
“I’m going to try them all,” he said. “I’m not even going to say I know that yet. We just have our base stuff in right now, so we haven’t really let guys loose, but we’ll see in the near future.”
Yates spoke about junior college transfer defensive lineman Dereck Boles on Tuesday.
“He has a motor, he’s strong, powerful,” Yates said. “He still has a ways to go to get in shape, but he’s a guy we hope can help us out.”
Yates coached Boles at Boise State, but did not recruit him, though he does “know him well.”
“He’s a guy that can help us out there,” Yates said.
Boles is listed at 6-foot-2, 296 pounds.
Rodriguez mentioned that defensive line coach Vince Amey will coach the interior defensive linemen this season, while newly-hired special teams coach Brian Knorr will coach the edge d-linemen.
“It’s such a harder position to play now, especially defensive end, that I like the way have it broken down,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez wants to see the defense generate more “quick stops.”
“We were so bad in so many areas for a lot of different reasons, but we just did not get enough quick stops, whether it was turnovers or three-and-outs,” he said.
“We gotta create more three-and-outs. The only way to control the tempo of the game on either side is for your defense to get quick stops.
To do that, Rodriguez says, Arizona has to create confusion, be more aggressive, and not be afraid to make a play.
“As a freshman, sometimes you’re afraid to get beat, and so you just do your assignment,” he said.
“That’s a bad mentality to take and I think we’ve taken that a little bit in the last couple years. Coach Yates and the rest of us coaches are going to play them confidently because we got good players. A lot of people don’t know who they are, but we’ve got some good players over there.”
Rodriguez said the Wildcats’ defensive line is bigger this season, but still not as big as he’d prefer.
“But we have enough size and we got to play more of them,” he said.
Yates said there will be a noticeable difference in size this season.
“We have what we have,” he said. “To me it’s up to us as a staff to figure out what they can and can’t do. We have to use that to our advantage.
“We have some beef there now, so we’re not the same team that we were (last year).”
Rich Rodriguez said redshirt freshman linebacker Jacob Colacion is “going to play” this season.
“He’s an athletic guy and a smart football player and last year he was just coming off an injury so we had to redshirt him, but he’s full go now and he’s going to be playing a lot of football for us.”
Colacion has mostly been playing Mike linebacker (occasionally shifting to Will).
He tore his ACL and meniscus in his right knee before last season, plus had some cartilage damage.
“I don’t even think about my knee anymore,” he said. “That’s making me play a little bit faster.”
Other players filling it at mike linebacker are Brandon Rutt, Carrington Vaughn and freshmen Josh Brown and Colin Schooler.
Schooler and Vaughn, Colacion said, are playing other the linebacker spots, too.
Colacion also mentioned Tony Fields and Schooler have stood out among the freshmen.
“I played against him in high school,” Colacion said of Schooler. “He’s a great player and he’s transitioning well out here.”
Schooler had a game-sealing pick six against Colacion’s team in high school.
“He’s the reason why we lost,” Colacion said.
Redshirt freshman defensive end Jalen Cochran is in camp with the Wildcats. The Michigan native announced his intention to transfer from the program in the spring to be closer to his grandmother, but he wound up returning to Tucson.
“His grandmother wanted him to get his butt back to Tucson, so she wrote me a long letter asking if we’d take him back and I did with conditions,” Rodriguez said.
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Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire