The Arizona Wildcats have officially wrapped up their spring and will continue to build off the teachings from this new staff under Kevin Sumlin.
The staff will head out to begin their recruiting travels, the players will get into a spring lifting program and watch their spring film.
After the spring game, I shared my quick thoughts and observations with you all. We saw a lot of promising stuff from the young bunch, but there were some glaring weak points. Now, after processing all the information, I’ve come up with my big three takeaways.
Arizona will have a running back committee and that’s okay
J.J.Taylor is the premier back, there’s no doubt about that. But Nathan Tilford is still trying to wrap everything together.
The coaching hing staff this spring has said he needs to learn a little more and be more aggressive. He’s a punishing back at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds.
But in the spring game it took some time to gain some confidence. There’s a lot of hesitation when he gets to the line of scrimmage, but once he’s in the open field he’s a complete threat with a stiff arm, spin and juke package.
He still needs some time, and that’s okay because Arizona still has some other backs in the works.
Anthony Mariscal made the switch from safety to running back and he’s proven to be a really good runner. He has hands out of the back field, and has great vision when he gets past the first level. Don’t write him off just because he had a position change.
Branden Leon earned quality Pac-12 reps last season and he’s a hard runner too, like Mariscal.
And that’s not including Gary Brightwell, who got banged up late. He has a similar skill set to Mariscal, and mostly saw time as a true freshman in the slot.
That’s a really solid depth chart of work horse running backs.
Personally, I really enjoyed the trio of Taylor, Nick Wilson and Zach Green. Each had their own unique skill set, you’re constantly getting fresh legs on the field, and it’s much more difficult for a defense to prepare for a rotating stable of backs.
So if you give Taylor a majority of the load, Tilford some short-yardage situations, and Mariscal some flex carries, on top of Brightwell going outside of the backfield, I like the depth and versatility in the Noel Mazzone offense.
Don’t panic on the offensive line... yet
The offensive line was bad, straight up. And as 2017 ended this was a huge concern as the team only had two returning starters, with Layth Friekh, one of two returning starters, having to serve a suspension for the first two games this season.
But during the spring game, the line was missing Nathan Eldridge, who is entering his third year as a the starting center.
That’s huge for an inexperienced line, not having someone who can make call outs and identify the blitz and linebackers.
Michael Eletise was in at left guard, and I’d expect him to start.
Right guard is super tricky. Bryson Cain who mostly projected as a tackle has been filling in. Maisen Knight was running right guard with the second team, who provides some competition. I still think 2018 junior college transfer Steven Bailey can get in there during the summer too.
At right tackle was Cody Creason, who has the Pac-12 experience, and is someone I expect to win that job.
The line looked bad in pass protection, but the made the running backs look really good. I’m a little concerned, but I’m not hitting the panic button yet.
The offensive line won’t be as good as it was the last two years, allowing only 19 sacks last season and leading Arizona to two straight Pac-12 rushing titles, albeit with the help of some run-first quarterbacks.
But let Eldridge get back at center, and coach Joe Gilbert coach up his two guards — former four-star recruit Eletise and whoever solidifies the right guard spot — during the summer and fall.
If it comes tothe fall, and Khalil Tate is still scrambling and orchestrating plays on the fly in the non-conference schedule, we’ll have issues.
Defensive depth has to utilize the offseason
Rich Rodriguez didn’t leave behind a lot of developed players, but he did build up a lot of young talent.
I’ve mentioned before that the defensive line has about 11 scholarship players, giving the it the depth it needed the past five years.
But a lot of that depth is really young, or has little to no Pac-12 experience.
Junior college transfer Sione Taufahema redshirted last year after battling an injury that led to a weight issue. He’s a big body at 6-foot-3, 330 pounds, but just needs time.
JB Brown got some looks last season at tackle/end. He is a little undersized, but he’s provided some value despite entering the program as a linebacker. Still, he’s only a sophomore with a handful of snaps.
Kurtis Brown wasn’t present at the spring game, but he was essentially a co-starter last season, and he’ll have to hold off newcomer junior college transfer PJ Johnson for his spot.
Johnson is the 6-foot-5, 330 pound behemoth Rodriguez took a flier on. He started with the first team during the spring game, and can hopefully continue to transition.
Mykee Irving, one of the higher ranked recruits of the 2018 class, enrolled early and can push for playing time as a true freshman. He is 6-foot-3, 330 pounds, but still needs some work this off-season.
Lastly on the defensive line, there’s My-King Johnson on the end. He’s listed at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, and has a load of potential. As a redshirt freshman I think he has a chance to be a co-starter with Justin Belknap.
At the next level, it’s up to two guys to provide the depth at linebacker.
Jacob Colacion, a redshirt sophomore, who will rotate with Colin Schooler at middle linebacker. An athletic linebacker who I think makes big contributions this season with a good summer and fall.
At weak side backer it’s Anthony Pandy, a true sophomore who will back up Tony Fields. He got a good amount of field time last season, and he’ll need a big offseason to build depth.
Heading into the secondary, there’s really only one corner I’d feel comfortable with and that’s Tony Wallace. He has a load of potential, turning down offers to USC, Oregon and Nebraska a year ago.
I’ll leave it to Mackenzie Barnes and Jhevon Hill, two incoming freshmen to make the leap for depth too. Still, that’s a lot of youth at a very skillful and mental position.
For safeties, it’ll be Xavier Bell backing up Tristan Cooper at spur. Bell is a big body guy with a hit stick. Still a little raw as a redshirt freshman, but I think he can get in that rotation at spur.
I’ll end it with Troy Young, who will back up Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles at bandit. Another big body kid as a sophomore that will need to develop quickly. A year ago Flannigan-Fowles was the top NFL prospect on this roster and he really struggled last season both tackling and in coverage.
Free safety is a bit of a crap shoot. I think as it stands, Jarrius Wallace is the starter. Regardless of the outcome of Scottie Young Jr.’s suspension, and Isaiah Hayes’ injury diagnosis. Antonio Parks, a converted corner, is the only other active free safety on the roster.