Arizona has completed its first full week of preseason camp, getting in six practices over a 7-day span for the early stages of preparation for the 2022 opener at San Diego State.
The Wildcats are off Wednesday, which makes this a good time to look back at what’s happened in camp so far and what it might mean for the regular season.
At the bottom of this story are links to all of our training camp coverage, including daily practice reports. First, though, are some observations:
The starting QB has been outshined by one of his understudies
If you didn’t know Jayden de Laura had already been handed the starting job—Jedd Fisch hasn’t officially said so, but he’s giving JDL all of the first-team snaps—you’d wonder if there’s the possibility of a quarterback controversy.
There isn’t. De Laura will start Sept. 3 at San Diego State, and barring injury or a blowout he’ll probably play the whole game. The competition in camp is for his backup spot, and based on performance alone that should end up being true freshman Noah Fifita, who has looked more consistent than both de Laura and junior Jordan McCloud.
This isn’t to say that de Laura has looked bad. He’s looked fine, just not superb, but still far better than what any of Arizona’s options showed last preseason.
Maybe de Laura is one of those guys who doesn’t look stellar in practice, but when it’s gameday he’s a whole different player. That’s how Khalil Tate was, which explained why he didn’t start over Brandon Dawkins, and why it took Nick Foles a while to supplant Matt Scott.
The running back situation is a long ways from being sorted out
Michael Wiley had the most starts (five) and carries (91) last season, and he’s probably the favorite to start the opener. But with the overabundance of options at that position, it’s very unlikely Arizona is going to go with just one primary ball carrier in most games and will probably split snaps between as many as three or four guys.
Florida State transfer DJ Williams appeared out of shape when camp began but he’s looked better with each practice, and he loudly broke a tackle on one of the first live-tackling plays on Tuesday. Rayson ‘Speedy’ Luke has lived up to his nickname with a great burst through the whole, while fellow freshman Jonah Coleman got off to a slow start but looks to be climbing the depth chart.
There’s also Drake Anderson, Stevie Rocker Jr. and Jalen John, though John’s absence the last few practices is concerning.
One man’s guess at the depth chart right now:
All that’s keeping Jacob Cowing from surpassing Stanley Berryhill’s 2021 production are his teammates
Based on the plays run in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills to this point, getting the ball to Cowing is going to be both a priority and in many ways a necessity. He’s a playmaker, and Arizona is going to force feed him the ball as much as possible.
But he won’t catch more than Berryhill’s 83 passes from a year ago, not with freshmen Tetairoa McMillan and Keyan Burnett also of the ‘we have to get the ball to him’ variety.
Quite a few of Cowing’s touches may come on jet sweeps, as was the case with Berryhill, whose 19 carries last season were the most by a UA receiver since Samajie Grant had 74 during a 2016 season when the Wildcats suffered so many injuries at running back that he became the starting tailback down the stretch.
Whatever the delivery method, expect the UTEP transfer to be heavily involved in the offense as both a primary target and a safety valve.
This defense will create turnovers
Arizona intercepted four passes and recovered two fumbles last season, tied for the fewest takeaways by an FBS team (in a non-COVID season) since at least 2000.
Don Brown’s scheme was aggressive, but so is the one Johnny Nansen has implemented, but there seems to be one key difference. While the former tried to use pressure to force offenses into mistakes, the latter seems more interested in forcing miscues at the point of attack.
The defense has ‘won’ camp to this point, and a lot of that has come with the secondary’s ability to make it hard for the receivers to catch the ball.