It was the final day of practice before Arizona’s “mock game” on Saturday night, and much like a workout right before of an actual college football game the overall pace and energy level was on the lighter side.
A late-morning rain shower only further added to the low-key vibe at Friday’s practice, the 14th of preseason training camp.
Running back DJ Williams and defensive back Isaiah Rutherford were both back at practice after missing time, with each going full speed during 7-on-7 drills. Wide receiver Jacob Cowing was once again not dressed, the fifth consecutive practice he’s sat out, lessening the likelihood he’ll be a full participant in the scrimmage inside Arizona Stadium.
The most noteworthy performances of the day came from wide receiver Anthony Simpson, who caught a long touchdown pass from Jayden de Laura and also made a nifty sideline grab, and true freshman defensive end Russell Davis II.
Davis was heavily featured in some of Arizona’s special defensive packages, replacing a linebacker and acting almost like a spy on the quarterback.
All in a day’s work
Arizona’s camp practices have averaged around two hours apiece, but that’s only a fraction of the work the players and coaches put in on a daily basis. Freshman quarterback Noah Fifita said he and his teammates are at the football facility from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
“It’s not like anything I’ve ever experienced,” Fifita said. “But that’s what we signed up for. That’s where we want to get, so we we’re enjoying it.”
Fifita looks like he’s the frontrunner to be the No. 2 quarterback behind de Laura, beating out Jordan McCloud for the backup job. He ran with the first-team offense on Wednesday when de Laura was absent and also got a series with the 1s during the first scrimmage.
That practice with the first team began a run of below average performances from Fifita, at least compared to how he’d looked during the first two weeks of camp. Still, he’s looked far more advanced than any true freshman QB at Arizona in recent memory.
“Being here since January definitely helped,” he said. “Being able to just have that whole spring ball under my belt, there’s nothing like live reps, that’s where you get comfortable. And the relationship I have with Jayden and Jordan has definitely helped me.”
Fifita said de Laura is “like a big brother to me,” and knowing that de Laura was going to be the starter has taken away some of the pressure and just allowed him to develop.
“I just control what I can control,” he said. “(de Laura) has the success and the experience that I don’t, but being able to just learn from him learn, from Jordan, I’m in a unique position.”
Big Jonah’s biggest adjustment
Jonah Savaiinaea is going to be Arizona’s starting left guard, the first true freshman offensive lineman to start the season opener since Donovan Laie in 2018 and the first guard in almost 20 years. A little more than two weeks from his collegiate debut Sept. 3 at San Diego State, though, he’s yet to feel nervous.
“I’m super confident,” Savaiinaea said Friday.
Recently named to the preseason watch list for Polynesian Player of the Year, while also landing on 247Sports’ preseason True Freshman All-America team, Savaiinaea has dropped almost 20 pounds since he arrived in Tucson in January and is playing at 326 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame.
He’s doing that in a 3-point stance on Arizona’s line, something he had to learn from scratch during the spring after playing in a straight crouch in high school.
No specific details have been released about the format of the mock game, which is open to the public, but it sounds like it will be similar to last week’s scrimmage in terms of the on-field format.
The biggest difference will be the atmosphere, which is meant to resemble a real game as closely as possible. It will be played at night—scheduled start is 6:30 p.m. PT—and will have a public address announcer and in-game sound effects.
And fitting of the time of year in Tucson, a good chance of a weather delay. The forecast for Saturday night calls for an 80 percent chance of precipitation, including thunderstorms and heavy rain.