The Arizona Wildcats completed their spring practices on Saturday night where the defense dominated the spring game.
There were some good things and bad things we saw, but overall I think it was a good progress check for a lot of position groups.
Of note, the general consensus is that the offensive line has a long way to go, yet the best group of the night was the running backs. The defensive line showed that they have a lot of bodies.
Still, there are some questions to be answered on the depth chart in terms of backups, and that’s going to get even more competitive once the full 2019 class comes in.
We’ll start with the offensive line, which is a group that got worked by the defensive front. Khalil Tate didn’t have a lot of time and was forced to scramble quite a bit. While the pass protection resulted in a lot of throwaways, the run blocking was really good.
The first team offensive line looked like this: Layth Friekh, Michael Eletise, Alex Kosinski, Bryson Cain, Cody Creason.
To give the line the benefit of the doubt, Friekh is the only returning starter of this group, although Creason does have a decent amount of Pac-12 experience. Maybe it’s this new scheme or the clear lack of chemistry between the line, but it did not look good across the board.
Nathan Eldridge, the returning starting center, was out.
Backing up on the offensive line was Edgar Burrola, Jon Jacobs, Josh McCauley, Maisen Knight and David Watson.
The receivers were highlighted by two guys in my opinion. Shawn Poindexter looked like the receiver we’ve all desired him to be. He was targeted the most and came down with some pretty tough catches, including two touchdowns. He started to connect with Tate late last season and he’ll hopefully be that No. 1 outside target Arizona has desperately needed.
Another guy who really started to make plays was Stanley Berryhill III, redshirt freshman from Tucson. There are a lot more quick passes in Noel Mazzone’s offense and Berryhill was used in the flats quite a bit and on a couple balls downfield. Arizona needed that fourth receiver, and they have one in Berryhill.
Brian Casteel and Devaughn Cooper were in the first team rotation but both left a lot to be desired. Casteel had a few targets but most would have been really difficult catches. Cooper was seen on crutches after the game.
Sliding over to running back, J.J. Taylor had some good moves but didn’t have a whole lot of reps it seemed.
As for running back No. 2, it took Nathan Tilford some time but he finally got things going. To me, he works best in open space. In the second half, he started to open up his tool kit, showing a stiff arm, spin and stutter step on one drive. But when it comes to battling between the tackles and pushing forward, I think that’s an area he’ll need to improve.
Gary Brightwell was out with a knee injury, but safety-turned-running back Anthony Mariscal looked really good. Like really good. He shares a similar skill set to Brightwell and has some good hands out of the backfield. He was busting out big runs all night. I think he can be a legitimate Pac-12 running back.
Branden Leon was running with the second and third team but he was breaking free for some big time runs and made both Jarrius Wallace and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles look silly, both of which will be starting safeties it seems. Take that as you will.
Defense dominated this spring game. Better yet, the defensive line was disruptive, something we haven’t been used to.
This is a really deep group. There are 10-plus scholarship guys in this group and they all have the ability to rotate as starters.
The initial group consisted of Justin Belknap, Dereck Boles and PJ Johnson.
Belknap is going to give you the usual pressure he’s shown that he can provide. Dereck Boles looked good before he left the game with an injury. And we’re finally starting to see some promise from a junior college defensive lineman. Johnson is 6-foot-5, 330 pounds.
Your three freshman all-American linebackers did more of the same. Kylan Wilborn, Colin Schooler, and Tony Fields all looked like they haven’t missed a beat.
Jace Whittaker and Lorenzo Burns both made their usual plays, which included a forced fumble-turned-touchdown by Whittaker when bringing down Tilford. Burns had a couple of good deflections but is very handsy when the ball is in the air. He was the most targeted corner in the Pac-12 last season and teams will try to exploit him again if they can draw a penalty.
Flannigan-Fowles really needs to get his open field tackling back from his sophomore season. He had 10 missed tackles last season, and got shook badly by Leon. He had a couple of good plays here and there, but then just some really bad reaches on tackling.
One guy I’m glad to see back in the safety mix is Tristan Cooper. The former two-star recruit out of El Paso started as a true freshman, but got trumped by Dane Cruikshank after his switch to safety. Cooper is a big-time hitter.
Jarrius Wallace is looking like the starting free safety, regardless of whether Scottie Young returns to the team or not. Young started for most of last season as a true freshman, but was in the stands during the scrimmage.
Wallace came away with two interceptions, both on passes from K’Hari Lane.
Punting was actually decent. There was one bad snap, however. I believe Matt Aragon punted most of the balls.
Josh Pollack missed a mid-range field goal and Lucas Havrisik doinked a PAT. Pollack went on to nail a 46-yard attempt which was good to see.
On the return game it was mostly Berryhill who was back there. He brought the second half kickoff close to midfield.
Lee Anderson III looked really good taking over for Wilborn at the stud position. He has a good mix of speed and power and now I’m not sure he has been talked about enough as a key rotational player. He’s checking in at 6-foot-1, 235 pounds as a junior.
Another stud replacement that I liked seeing was Jalen Harris. He still looks small at 6-foot-4, 212 pounds, but was coming off the backside and causing disruption in the backfield on a regular basis.
I liked the effort from JB Brown. He came in as a linebacker from Long Beach Poly last season but transitioned slowly to defensive line. He’s playing on the edge and was able to fight his way into some plays and chase some guys down to end others.
The backup middle and weak side backers of note were Jacob Colacion and Anthony Pandy. Those are two guys who will definitely benefit from the off season and work their way into the rotation.
Xavier Bell is getting some looks at spur, and I think he can become a co-starter with Tristan Cooper. He just has the size and power to play that position. He’s 6-foot-2, pushing 200 pounds.
Chacho Ulloa came away with an interception after Belknap tipped a pass from Tate. Troy Young continues to work out of the bandit spot.
I’m not really sure where I expected K’Hari Lane to be at this point in the spring, but he is a little more polished than I would have thought. The true backup will be coming this fall in high-end three-star Kevin Doyle, though.
True freshman Mykee Irving and junior college transfer Sione Taufahema got in some first team reps. I wish I paid more attention to them specifically, but those are two very big bodies to watch.
My-King Johnson, redshirt freshman defensive end, looked like he added more weight as well. He entered the program last season at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds.
Rexx Tessler, a walk-on linebacker from Brophy (Phoenix, AZ), had a couple of big plays. That was really surprising. He’s 5-foot-9, 209 pounds.
Guys who stood out
- WR Shawn Poindexter
- WR Stanley Berryhill
- LB Lee Anderson
- FS Jarrius Wallace
- LB/DE Jalen Harris
- RB Branden Leon
- RB Anthony Mariscal