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What to watch for in Arizona’s spring football game

arizona-wildcats-college-football-spring-practice-scrimmage-preview-tate-sumlin-mazzone Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats wrap up spring practice on Saturday with their annual spring game, an exhibition inside Arizona Stadium that will serve as the first chance to see what the 2019 team—or at least a very early version of it—will look like on the field this fall.

Arizona began spring practice on March 18, with this being the 15th workout allowed under NCAA rules.

The game is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. PT and will be broadcast on Pac-12 Network. Here are some things to keep an eye on:

Tate/Mazzone 2.0

No aspect of the 2018 Wildcats was more closely scrutinized than the pairing of quarterback Khalil Tate and reputed QB guru Noel Mazzone, and rightfully so. Tate entered the year with Heisman hype after his breakout 2017 performance, while Mazzone had a track record of developing passers at the college level.

And to that end, Mazzone was successful last year, since Tate threw for 2,530 yards and 26 touchdowns. But it came at the expense of his running ability, with him gaining just 224 yards and scoring twice after going for 1,411 yard and 12 TDs in 2017.

Both player and offensive coordinator have cited growing pains as a reason for Tate’s play last year, though a nagging ankle injury suffered in the second game of the season didn’t help. Now there are no excuses, as Tate is healthy and he’s in the second year of this system.

While the scrimmage figures to include all six of Arizona’s QBs, four of whom have combined for just four total passes at the collegiate level, it will be Tate’s snaps—and what he does on those plays—that gets the most attention.

How do the new guys look?

Arizona had seven members of its 2019 recruiting class enroll early and participate in spring practice, giving them a leg up on the other newcomers in the competition for immediate playing time. At least six of them should get a chance to shine during the spring game.

Quarterback Grant Gunnell and wide receiver Boobie Curry highlight the skill-position newcomers, with Curry figuring to be in the mix for a starting spot on the outside, while junior college transfers Josh Donovan and Paiton Fears are candidates to start on the offensive line.

Christian Roland-Wallace has been mentioned by several coaches and players made available to the media as a freshman who has stood out during spring ball. He figures to see a healthy number of snaps at cornerback and on special teams, possibly as a return specialist.

It’s uncertain whether defensive lineman Myles Tapusoa, a JUCO transfer, will play in the spring game. The 6-foot-1, 330-pound prospect from Eastern Arizona College has been dealing with injury and conditioning issues that have limited his participation.

Who gets thrown to by whom?

No position has more uncertainty for Arizona than at wide receiver, where its top three pass-catchers from 2018 have graduated and no one on the roster had more than 18 receptions last season. The only certainty among the wideouts is senior Cedric Peterson, who started most games last year but was usually the fourth option.

Outside receivers coach Taylor Mazzone said earlier this week that a go-to receiver has yet to step up, but part of that process is seeing who the quarterback—presumably Tate—trusts to throw the ball to most often. With that being said, who he targets on Saturday might be an indication of which receivers he’s most comfortable with and which ones have the leg up to start.

The same goes for who gets thrown to by Arizona’s other QBs, including Gunnell, redshirt freshmen Kevin Doyle and Jamarye Joiner and junior Rhett Rodriguez.

Line layouts

JUCO transfers Donovan and Fears were brought in to play right away on the O-line, and the spring game will be a chance to see how they fit in with returners Cody Creason, Donovan Laie and Josh McCauley. McCauley—who inexplicably is still not on scholarship—is locked in at center after taking every snap there in 2018, while Laie is expected to shift to left tackle after playing most of his true freshman season at right tackle.

Creason will be at one of the guard spots, but which one may still be up in the air and he could go back and forth during the spring game. Same goes for Donovan and Fears with the other guard spot and right tackle.

Also worth noting is who makes up the second unit, and whether anyone from that group gets reps with the first team during the scrimmage.

The defensive line is even more fluid, partly because there are so few bodies available to DL coach Iona Uiagalelei. In addition to Tapusoa’s limited availability, junior college signee Trevon Mason had been listed as a mid-year enrollee but he doesn’t arrive until the summer.

Look for Justin Belknap, JB Brown, Jalen Cochran, Finton Connolly, Jalen Harris, Nahe Sulunga and Kylan Wilborn to be mixed and matched up front.