Following nine practices in the morning, including an 85-play scrimmage inside the stadium on Saturday, Arizona mixed things up and worked out in the late afternoon Sunday with much of the shells-only practice happening inside the Davis Sports Center.
A good number of veterans, particularly on the defensive side, saw limited reps after a high-intensity scrimmage and ahead of a planned day off on Monday. Back in action, though, were the likes of defensive tackle Kyon Barrs and others who didn’t dress for the scrimmage.
Defensive lineman Tia Savea, who was not at the scrimmage, made a brief appearance at practice but did not participate, while among those not in attendance were wide receiver Jacob Cowing.
Sunday marked the final practice that was open to the public until the “mock game” scheduled for Saturday evening at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats will return to practice Tuesday for the first of four straight morning workouts.
Spreading the wealth
Assuming Jalen John is healthy, Arizona could easily end up dressing and playing seven running backs in the season opener Sept. 3 at San Diego State. Practices and drills have been shaped with this in mind, with several ball carriers getting snaps with the first-team offense to this point.
It presents a challenge keeping all of those players happy, knowing that there are only so many snaps and touches in a game to go around, yet running backs coach Scottie Graham seems not the least bit worried.
“The way I teach them my room, when we’re strong we’re strong together,” he said. “We’re not gonna be separate, and when it’s not my turn I’m gonna cheer. And when I get my turn I’m gonna make a play.”
Graham, who played six seasons in the NFL, said there were 14 running backs during his freshman year at Ohio State in 1988 and seven of them ended up playing in the pros.
“I played fullback in college,” he said. “I didn’t want to play fullback. I came as a tailback. I was 185 pounds and 5’9. So I know sacrifice.”
Michael Wiley is the veteran of the group, having played in 28 games at Arizona since 2019, but last season he only got 91 carries as Drake Anderson, Stevie Rocker Jr. and John also had 30 or more rushes. And in the offseason the Wildcats added three more rushers in freshmen Jonah Coleman and Rayshon ‘Speedy’ Luke and Florida State transfer DJ Williams.
With so many options, Arizona’s approach to the run could depend on which back is in the game. All will be expected to catch the ball out of the backfield—Wiley’s 33 receptions were tied for second-most on the team in 2021—as well as being able to block in pass protection.
“We pretty much spent the entire practice just working on blocking and chipping,” Wiley said. “As a team we can only be as good as we can if we can protect our quarterback, because last year we had a lot of injuries in the QB room.”
The (old) new guy
Like Wiley, Williams is also in his fourth year of college football but is playing for his third school. He signed with Auburn as a 3-star prospect in the 2019 recruiting class, rushing for 599 yards and five touchdowns in two seasons with the Tigers, then spent last year at Florida State where he appeared in six games.
The Lake Placid, Fla., native said he’d never been out west before committing to Arizona, saying him ending up there was the product of “right people put me in this place.”
His arrival came a lot later than planned, the result of him having to take one last elective in order to complete his degree and not getting cleared until after the first practice of training camp. Williams looked a little out of sorts the first few practices, but recently has gotten a lot of time with the 1s and in Saturday’s scrimmage was the leading rusher with 42 yards on five carries.
“I think I’m still working on it, just adjusting to the environment,” he said. “It’s a lot different than where I come from. But I think it’s going good. It’s obviously hot in Florida as well, but I feel like it’s a little different here.”
Williams was a quarterback in high school—“I just love having the ball in my hands, being able to do whatever you want with it,” he said—and believes his experience at that position helps him as a runner to know how the defense is flowing.
He believes his best skill is running downhill, though, and drawing contact, which could make him a big part of Arizona’s plans in the red zone.
“I’d love to take contact anywhere, honestly,” he said.