The Arizona Wildcats have reached the halfway point of their preseason camp, doing so with a 120-play scrimmage on Saturday afternoon that coach Kevin Sumlin said will serve as the final evaluation tool for putting together a depth chart.
From here on out, he said, it’s all about getting ready for the 2020 season opener at Utah on Nov. 7.
“We’re two weeks away,” Sumlin said via Zoom. “We’re going to have those personnel decisions this afternoon and tomorrow, and go into two legitimate game weeks with guys who we see, offensively, defensively and special teams, as getting on the plane and going to Utah.”
Below are the other topics Sumlin touched on in a 15-minute interview with reporters:
On how the scrimmage went: “We worked some more situations. Had a two-minute (drill) again today, and a four-minute to close the game with some young guys in there. Situational football becomes a big deal.
On who looked best on Saturday: “The running backs are coming along. (Michael) Wiley had a nice day, too. Those guys got plenty of work, particularly in those types of situations. I thought defensively, we’ve got a couple of guys that are out. But our D-line is improving. The two transfers, (Aaron) Blackwell and Roy Lopez, they’re big guys that can hold the point. We’ve got some young D-linemen that are coming on every day. The running backs and the D-line have improved.”
On the biggest concerns at this point: “As a coach you worry about everything. Like we talked about coming into this thing, we’re a little thin at linebacker and safety. We’ve got to hold up there and make some adjustments. As we said before a couple weeks ago, get our best people on the field.”
On where things stand midway through the preseason: “We’ve had two weeks of practice, we’ve had a 90-play scrimmage, a 70-play scrimmage and a 120-play scrimmage. Saturday, Wednesday night and today. We’ll settle down and have 2-deep going by Monday. Those personnel decisions are based on what’s transpired over the last two weeks.
“Where we are right now is halfway through camp. A coach is never satisfied, really. We’ve got some things to work on. We’ve got to get better this week. Instead of 120 players getting reps, we’re getting back to those 70-some players that are going to be part of a travel roster, so you can hone some things down. Sometimes in a situation where you have 120 players out there, things can look different at different times. That’s why I like to wait to see the video and who all is out there before we make decisions about who is getting on a bus to go to a game.”
On what will determine the backup QB: “Accuracy, leadership. All those things. How does the guy operate, that’s why we played situational these last couple of scrimmages. How he operates in those situations and moves the football team. Or how he handles the clock like we had them in situations today. All those things that go into successful and being a quarterback and leading. I think as a group, the quarterbacks have come on in the last two weeks. I just think as a group they’ve improved.”
On managing injuries, COVID-19 protocols and the Pac-12’s gameday roster minimums: “We’re always cautious. Those are two separate things. A sprained ankle and COVID are completely different. We’re managing that. And we understand with the 53 players, we understand what that looks like, and we have to manage that.”
On RB Gary Brightwell: “Gary has been through a lot. That’s documented. But he’s also—since I’ve been here—he’s also matured a lot and has grown up. Brightwell, I thought, had an excellent day today. Ran hard and did some great things, caught balls, got out of bounds in two-minute situations. Stayed inbounds in four-minute. Without a doubt, today he was a complete player. If that continues he could have a big year.”
On QB Grant Gunnell’s improvement: “He’s got more reps, number one. He spends a lot of time studying the game. He’s been working his tail off. He is continuing to improve. And all of the individual work we were able to get with him, and in the weight room, he’s 230-something now. He’s just improved over everything. The goals in the offseason, to work on his footwork, strengthen his arm. Also leadership skills, everything that goes into being a quarterback, I think he’s worked hard to improve across the board.”
On safety Rhedi Short, who could start this year after not playing his first three seasons: “He’s been through a lot of different things, physically, early in his career. He’s come along, he’s battled, and he’s a mature guy. He’s been able to be a communicator. He’s worked his tail off in the offseason. He’s been around … and is playing with a lot of determination right now.”
On safety Jaxen Turner: “Jaxen was really improving last year until he hurt that shoulder. So he had shoulder surgery and that kind of set him back a little bit for the offseason. He’s not that far behind because we only had four spring practices. I think Jaxen’s come along very well.”