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Arizona football notebook: Anthony Simpson lands No. 1 jersey, offensive line showing improvement

arizona-wildcats-football-notebook-anthony-simpson-offensive-line-kyle-ostendorp-jedd-fisch-2022 Arizona Athletics

With training camp over and “game week” still technically a few days away, Arizona is in that limbo stage between the preseason and the real thing. Thankfully, its first post-camp practice didn’t carry that same level of vagueness.

“I think there was a good energy on the field,” UA coach Jedd Fisch said Tuesday night. “You got out of the camp mode, they’re coming off a day off. We were able to finish camp on Sunday night, had a little bit of a conclusion, evening dinner, the whole deal. And then today was the start of what I would hope is the season, and the team of ‘22 is ready to roll and excited. We know we got to focus in these next four days and then again, obviously all next week.”

The Wildcats will work out Wednesday through Saturday afternoon, take Sunday off and then officially move into game mode for the Sept. 3 opener at San Diego State. And when they take the field at Snapdragon Stadium, one player will be a new uniform number.

Sophomore wide receiver Anthony Simpson has landed the coveted No. 1, switching from the No. 17, he wore in fall camp and during spring practice after wearing No. 25 in 2021.

Fisch had made it seem Saturday night, after the mock game, that the offensive No. 1—sixth-year senior defensive end Jalen Harris has it on defense for a second straight season—might not get worn due to a lack of good candidates. But Simpson’s play beyond receiver caused him to reconsider.

“We made a decision that Anthony Simpson has done an incredible job on special teams,” Fisch said. “He’s committed to being a four-core guy.”

Simpson, who Fisch said runs 6,000 yards each practice due to all his various duties, won Arizona’s offseason program by finishing first in every category. And in the preseason he’s filled in at every receiver spot when someone has been out.

“Anytime we had a receiver down he took it,” Fisch said. “He took the F rep, the Z rep, the X rep, and did a great job at it. Gave unbelievable effort. He’s without a question the first guy in at any position at wide receiver, and then in addition he’s gonna be a huge special teams players so we thought he was the right guy for it this year.”

Simpson has big shoes to fill. Last year’s No. 1 on offense, Stanley Berryhill, led Arizona in receiving, was the main punt returner and served as a gunner on punt coverage. Berryhill recently survived a round of cuts with the Atlanta Falcons, who signed him as an undrafted free agent in May.

Better communication on the O-line

Arizona’s five expected starting offensive linemen either played significantly last season or, in the case of true freshman left guard Jonah Savaiinaea, have been a first-team staple since spring practice.

All those reps together should pay off this season, particularly when it comes to all five being on the same page.

“The biggest thing with offensive line is they’ve got to be able to echo calls all the way down,” Fisch said. “So one guy makes a call, the guard has to tell the tackle, the center has to tell the guard. So the communication and the ability for them to talk, they feel a lot more comfortable, which I think leads to less mental mistakes and an ability to really be more fundamentally sound because you could focus on just the physical side of it.”

The line is healthy, too, which wasn’t the case for much of last season or in the spring. Left tackle Jordan Morgan dealt with a lingering ankle injury all of 2021, while right guard Josh Donovan missed four games because of injury, and this spring sophomore center Josh Baker couldn’t participate due to pectoral surgery.

Baker’s absence in the spring allowed redshirt freshman JT Hand to get a lot of reps, and he’s the first sub either at guard or center (with Donovan able to move to either tackle spot, if needed). Redshirt junior Sam Langi would be next in line, followed by sophomore Joe Borjon.

Fisch wouldn’t say how many linemen he expects to be able to contribute at the outset, but he knows it can’t just be five.

“The key to that position is, if you just got five, you got a problem,” he said.

Former WR Jalen Johnson on Idaho State roster

Johnson was with Arizona for spring practice, but when preseason camp began he was no longer on the roster. Turns out he moved onto to another program with UA ties

Johnson is listed on the online roster at FCS school Idaho State, confirming he’d joined the Bengals on Instagram.

daho State, which begins play Saturday at UNLV, is coached by former Arizona assistant Charlie Ragle. Johnson, listed as a freshman despite appearing in 19 games with the Wildcats from 2019-21, is listed as a starter on the Bengals’ first depth chart.

Another preseason nod for Ostendorp

Punter Kyle Ostendorp continues to rack up the preseason accolades, the latest being a named to the Associated Press’ All-American team as a second-team choice.

The junior, who set a school record for punting average in 2021, was also a first-team preseason choice for the Pac-12 and is on the Ray Guy watch list.