After a day off, Arizona was back on the practice field Thursday for its seventh workout of preseason camp. The Wildcats downsized from full pads to shells (helmets and shoulder pads), but the intensity matched that of an actual game.
This was particularly the case after each of the three interceptions recorded by the defense, one each by Isaiah Rutherford, Jaydin Young and Malik Reed. The first pick, one of two thrown by Jayden de Laura, caused the entire defensive sideline to rush onto the field and dance in a circle around Rutherford. Slightly less animated celebrations followed when Young picked off Jordan McCloud and Reed stepped in front of a pass over the middle from de Laura.
The defense also forced a fumble, with freshman cornerback Tacario Davis punching the ball out from behind on tight end Tanner McLachlan.
It wasn’t all bad for the offense, though, as it broke off a few big plays including a long touchdown pass from de Laura to Jacob Cowing. That came on a rollout to the left, with de Laura getting behind the defense and then taking off.
Freshman Tetairoa McMillan had some good catches, showing marked improvement as camp has progressed, and in one-on-one drills between receivers and defensive backs it was freshman Kevin Green Jr. that seemed uncoverable.
“Kevin is a straight up dog,” receivers coach Kevin Cummings said, pointing out his play from throughout camp. “He catches an easy out route the other day and spins it up the field for 60 yards.”
Operation Get the Ball to No. 2 in full effect
The frontrunner on offense to land the No. 1 jersey donned last season by Stanley Berryhill III is Cowing, the UTEP transfer who has more than lived up to the lofty expectations that came with him out of the portal.
Despite being only 5-foot-11, Cowing somehow ends up being the most open target on almost every play. It helps that the junior can do much more than play the slot, as he showed in 2021 with the Miners when he averaged nearly 20 yards per catch with 18 of his 69 receptions going for 25 or more yards.
“There’s not many limitations to his game,” Cumming said. “He can go vertical. He can win man-to-man, and he’s got the smarts and the savviness to adjust some of that stuff in the slot, some of those zone coverages, slip defenders, and different things like that. So I think it’s on us as a staff to put him in as many different spots as you can to use those skill sets. He’s just going out their playing and wherever we line him up, he’s done a great job of figuring out where he needs to be and how to run it.”
Cowing said he’s being asked to do pretty much the same things he was at UTEP, with the addition of being a return option, but there’s still been a learning curve.
“The biggest thing is just the terminology,” he said. “Football is football, the routes are routes, they’re all the same routes, but it’s just the only thing that’s confusing is a terminology that you just got to get used to. I’ve just spinning my playbook, trying to get the terminology down.”
Berryhill was targeted 118 times last season, catching 83 passes, and if adding in his 19 carries, 19 punt returns and several more fair catches he averaged close to 14 touches per game. Cowing might not go that high, mostly because of the presence of more viable receiving options than 2021, but it’ll still be up there.
Cowing said he doesn’t have a goal for how often he’d like to touch the ball—“I don’t really care about personal stats,” he said—Cummings refuted that statement.
“He’s lying to you,” he said. “I’ll just tell you that straight up, he wants the ball every play. He’s a competitor that way.”
Plenty of room for improvement with talented young receiving corps
While Cowings is a known quantity, the same can’t be said about most of Arizona’s other receivers. Nine of the 14 wideouts are true freshmen.
Cummings frequently lit up when talking about all the new toys he has at his disposal, but he was also quick to admit the flaws in several of the younger pass catchers.
On McMillan, the highest-rated prospect to sign with Arizona in program history, he said the 6-foot-5 wideout has to be more physical on the fade routes he’ll often be targeted on.
“That’s a constant coaching point for us, just because he’s so dangerous at it,” Cumming said. “And the difference between high school fade versus college football fade, it’s a lot more physical. And so he’s starting to learn how to use his physicality to his advantage. He’s got great size, I think he’s over 200 pounds. He’s got great size, so he needs to learn how to use that more. But as far as playmaking on the field, I know the last few days he’s really opened up, starting to show himself that way.”
On Green, a 3-star prospect who had been committed to USC before choosing the UA, the key is him putting as much effort into off-the-field work as what he does between the lines.
“I think he’s got to take the game more serious,” Cumming said. “Whether it’s nutrition, whether it’s study hall, whether it’s meetings, whatever the case may be, he’s got to continue to mature. But as far as when we’re out here on the field, I mean, I couldn’t say enough about him.”
And on Dorian Singer, who had 18 receptions as a freshman and led the team with a 16.72 per-catch average, the key is building off that first season and continuing to mature.
“Emotional maturity is growing day by day,” Cummings said. “A young kid, figuring everything out, and so he’s doing a great job, figuring out the mindset he needs to be in out on the field.”
For those that don’t remember, Singer was ejected from the Territorial Cup for “flagrant unsportsmanlike conduct.” Asked Thursday what happened against ASU, Singer declined to comment.
Old man Jamarye trending upward
Entering his fifth season, Jamarye Joiner is by far the elder statesman of the receiver room. He’s also got the injuries to show for it, coming back from a third foot surgery that caused him to miss spring practice.
It remains to be seen what kind of a role he’ll have in the offense this season, but so far in training camp Joiner has looked like he’s on track to be 100 percent for the Sept. 3 opener at San Diego State.
“Jamarye’s still got some conditioning to do,” Cumming said, pointing toward the Davis Sports Center where Joiner was inside getting in extra work after practice. “But he’s coming in and competed. He’s coming in with mindset that he’s ready to play. As a staff, we’ve got to be careful with how many reps he’s getting and everything like that, to make sure that that his body stays healthy, but he’s also got to get enough work where he’s getting in condition.”
Joiner missed the first three games of last season after reinjuring his foot in the spring game, but as the 2021 season went along he became more and more integral to the offense including as a wildcat quarterback. That’s the position he was recruited to play at Arizona, appearing in two games as a freshman in 2018 before getting converted to receiver and leading the team in yards and TDs in 2019.
It was late in that 2019 season that he suffered a Jones fracture in his foot, causing him to sit out the 2020 campaign.
- Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Brennan Carroll, who was not at practice Tuesday, showed up late for Thursday’s workout and was wearing a surgical mask while distancing himself from the team. An athletic department spokesman said Carroll was dealing with an illness and was feeling well enough to return to practice but wore the mask as a precaution.
- Still absent from practice was running back Jalen John, while defensive backs Isaiah Mays and Treydan Stukes and defensive lineman Dion ‘Tank’ Wilson Jr. were present but not suited up.
- Friday’s practice is at 9:15 a.m. PT, and presumably will be on the lighter side ahead of Saturday’s 10 a.m. PT scrimmage.