Spring games almost always give coaches and fans alike plenty of optimism about the direction of a football program. While there was a lot of positive takeaways, there were also “teachable moments” in Saturday’s game, according to coach Kevin Sumlin.
Sumlin talked to the media after the game, and while he discussed a range of topics, the overarching theme seemed to be the promise shown by players who didn’t see the field much (or all) last year.
“We had eight or nine guys we were rotating in [on the offensive line], so that created a lot of different combinations,” Sumlin said. “The quarterbacks, especially the young guys got plenty of snaps, some good some bad.”
Sumlin also pointed out that several mistakes weren’t on the quarterback, as “we had some young receivers in there that missed a couple of signals...but we wanted to get them out there in front of a crowd.
“We have some young talented players who are gonna help us, and we’re gonna put them in a position to make plays.”
One of them is Jalen Harris, someone Sumlin has been touting all spring.
“You’ve heard me talk about Harris, and his improvement this offseason,” he said. “That was evident tonight as a pass rusher...and not only that but he made plays chasing the ball up and down the field.”
Another promising defensive player is sophomore cornerback McKenzie Barnes, who had two interceptions in the game. Sumlin believes “McKenzie has a lot of talent, a lot of length on the corner. He was a young guy last year, playing against veteran receivers. As a young guy, mentally towards the end of the season, he was just worn down. Now he’s got some experience, he knows what’s happening, he’s more relaxed in his play.”
Perhaps the biggest highlight of Saturday came well before kickoff, as Sumlin revealed in a team meeting pregame that starting center Josh McCauley was officially on scholarship. Here’s the moment McCauley found out:
Sumlin said “[the coaching staff] has known about it, but we waited for today to have a little bit of energy for the game, so I didn’t have to give a big ‘rah-rah’ speech for the game. We’ve got a lot of respect for him as a coaching staff. He was really an ironman for us last year, he came in as a walk-on center and he played almost every snap. There’s nobody more deserving of a scholarship.”
All in all, Sumlin was pleased with how spring ball went. The main goal, according to Sumlin, was “to develop these new JC guys, on the offensive and defensive lines. Guys like Josh Donovan and Paiton Fears, they came here and we need them to play.”
Sumlin also wanted his many young receivers “like Tre Adams who made some plays today, Boobie [Curry] made some plays today, to get some snaps. We know what we have in a couple of guys on the perimeter, but these guys are gonna have to come out and play for us.”
Now Sumlin and his staff can focus on summer, especially in regard to those young players.
“Summer’s a little bit different,” he said. “The way we approach it, it’s about working on your weakness, whether that’s flexibility, quickness, getting stronger ... and then studying tape. These young guys, now that they have the basis of what the offense is, and the knowledge of their routes, that’s where I think you see the biggest jump in the offseason.”
It’s hard not to feel good about a team after the spring game, but Sumlin’s excitement about this young roster shows that there’s something to that. The regular season kicks off Aug. 24 when Arizona travels to Hawaii.
Only 133 more days...