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Arizona football experiments with split squad practice

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

The Arizona coaching staff has been experimenting ways to get its young players as many reps as possible this preseason.

On Sunday, it ran 10 plays—five plays, twice—at the end of practice for them so they could hone their knowledge of the playbook.

On Tuesday, things went to a whole new extreme, as the roster was broken up into two practice groups. The first consisted mostly of young players. They practiced in the morning. The second group featured players at or near the top of the depth chart. They practiced in the evening.

“It’s a new format, something that I’m not used to, I really like it though,” said offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll, who added that it was Jedd Fisch’s idea. “We had a blast with it. The guys got some great training, so this is a good format.”

The NCAA limits how many hours student-athletes are allowed to practice each week. It does not, however, place a limit on how many hours coaches can coach. So as long as the staff is willing to put in the time to run its own two-a-days, it can get an extended look at the roster and keep the young players engaged.

“The nice thing for the young guys is we can tone it down a little bit in terms of the teaching piece. I think that’s more important,” said linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski. “Sometimes as you get going, you take for granted some of the things these guys might not know. So it was a good chance for us to really install, teach, go back to basics, fundamentals, and look for some guys who show up athletically on the football field.”

Some young players like freshman tight end Alex Lines and running backs Jalen John and Stevie Rocker Jr. practiced in the evening, as they appear primed to make an immediate impact this season. Meanwhile, some older players like grad transfer quarterback Jordan McCloud practiced with the morning group.

“They were like our varsity for the day,” Dudzinski said. “Get to coach them hard, see what they can do, put them in a little pressure situations and see how they react. A couple of guys rose up and a couple of guys need to continue to work.”

Still no separation at QB

Though McCloud practicing in the morning suggests he is behind Gunner Cruz and Will Plummer in the quarterback competition, Carroll, like Jedd Fisch, doesn’t believe there’s much separation between the QBs yet.

“This is day one and a half in pads right now, so we’re just getting started,” Carroll said. “Probably a couple days from now hopefully it’ll start to show.”

The Wildcats will be off Tuesday before resuming practice Wednesday.

Shout out to Coach O

When asked what kind of strides Arizona’s offensive line has made since the spring, Carroll gave a shoutout to new strength and conditioning coach Tyler Owens, who’s received a lot of praise this preseason.

“They’ve done a great job with their body compositions,” Carroll said. “They’ve lost the bad weight and they’ve added good weight, which we can’t ask any more than that. They’re stronger, they’re more explosive, they’re faster.”