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Arizona football: Wildcats’ youth at linebacker is a blessing and a curse

This group has the chance to be really good, but there is also very little experience among them

With the first week of fall camp done for the Arizona Wildcats, linebackers coach Scott Boone is pleased so far with the work put in by the group and has a clear outline for what he is working on with the players.

“We’re working on maximum effort, number one. And scheme and technique and things like that number two,” Boone said after Saturday’s open practice. “So we are getting these guys who are flying around and doing things right. Then we’ll have a chance to have some guys who will make some contributions for us.”

One of the main hurdles for the group to overcome is youth. There are a lot of new faces and Boone is leaning heavily on redshirt junior Brandon Rutt to help out.

“I ask those guys every day ‘what’s the difference between now and high school football? The one thing they say is tempo and intensity,” Boone said. “We’ve got our blessing and our curse. Our blessing is we have a bunch of young guys. Our curse is we have a bunch of young guys. I look in a meeting room and there’s only one guy in our meeting and say ‘Now how did fit for you last year, Rutt?’”

That’s not to say that there isn’t anyone else in the ‘backer corps that can help the team. When asked about how many players could play this year, Boone replied: “Everybody that can help us win. Everybody that can help us win. It could be six easily.”

When it comes to the younger guys, a few have been mentioned by name. One heard most often is true freshman Tony Fields II from Las Vegas, Nev.

“I think Tony has a chance to be really good,” Boone explained. “I think Tony’s biggest strength is how hard he plays and his biggest weakness is he tries to make every play. He has to learn that his plays will come to him. Sometimes you’ll see if tries to make a play that’s not his, he’ll vacate his position.”

Another new face in the group, though not to the team, is Gavin Robertson Jr. The former safety made the switch to linebacker in the spring and has continued to make progress.

“He’s still making the adjustment,” Boone said. “But he’s playing faster. We just got to fine-tune his technique a little bit. But he definitely has a better understanding of what his responsibilities are.”

Another redshirt freshman who has made noise this offseason has been Jacob Colacion. The Southern California native suffered a pretty serious knee injury during his senior season in high school and spent all of last season recouping and getting back up to speed.

True freshman Colin Schooler is another name that is starting to gain traction as a player who could see considerable playing time this year. Even in high school, it was clear that Schooler is a smart player and physically he is ready to play. These attributes have caught Boone’s eye and helps him focus on what he needs to teach.

“After practice six, physically, he looks like a linebacker who can play in the Pac-12,” Boone said of his freshman. “Now it is my job to make that he mentally, and understanding what we’re doing, that all clicks.

“But he’s a smart kid. He has a high football I.Q. and he practices really hard. He’s one of those guys who has really adapted to the tempo of our offense and that’s not easy to do.”

With the youth that the unit has, Boone knows it’s now more of a teaching game but feels that if the young players are able to grasp their roles and responsibilities, they can really good — but also may make their fair share of mistakes.

“Rutt is the only one who has actual game experience he can draw on,” Boone said. “The other guys are learning on film.”