The third preseason practice saw some significant changes, with Arizona players donning shoulder pads for the first time. That allowed for some real contact, particularly in the trenches, and also led to many coaches getting quite fired up when something went wrong.
Head coach Jedd Fisch, offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Brennan Carroll and tight ends coach Jordan Paopao were particularly vocal during early work Friday before settling back and taking in the Wildcats’ first 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills of camp.
“We got pads on, it was awesome,” Carroll said afterward. “A great first shot for us.”
As promised all of the snaps prior to a hurry-up period at the end of practice took place in the red zone, Arizona’s bugaboo on both sides of the ball in 2021. And while the offense did manage a few scores in both 7-on-7 and 11-on-11, the defense seemed to have an edge thanks to its experienced secondary.
“The defense did good, we did good, it was balanced,” Carroll said. “They may have got more plays, I wasn’t counting, we’ll find out when we watch the film. We just need some more consistency, wasn’t as crisp as we would have liked it. But it’s a good improvement. We still got a couple days to clean up, but we’re light years past where we were last year. I’m excited as this is kind of our starting point.”
Arizona allowed 35 sacks last season, several in the red zone, contributing to a woeful touchdown percentage. UCLA transfer Tiaoalii Savea had a coverage sack on quarterback Jayden de Laura in 11-on-11, during which the offense only managed three TD passes on 14 attempts.
In 7-on-7, de Laura and Jordan McCloud combined to go 2 for 10 with de Laura connecting on scoring throws to tight end Keyan Burnett and slot receiver Jacob Cowing. De Laura also had an interception on a tipped pass, with safety Jaydin Young getting the pick after linebacker Ammon Allen got his hand on it.
Carroll said passing in the red zone is always harder by sheer nature of the lack of space.
“You can’t throw as far, the DBs don’t have to back up as much,” he said. “So it’s great opportunity to run the ball, run with physicality and you got to win some tight receiver matchups, with the tight ends getting open. We have to be precise when we get down there.
“We’re in a great point right now. We’ve got all of camp, thank God we’ve got more time.”
Puffy practice lids
Arizona’s offensive and defensive linemen, as well as the linebackers, have been using extra protection on their heads so far in practice. Covering their white helmets are padded blue “Guardian caps,” which the NFL has started using to help cut down on concussions.
“We’re having them for the front seven guys, we’re kind of following the NFL on that, trying to take care of guys,” Carroll said. “It’s just another layer of protection.”
Carroll said they’re particularly helpful early on in practice, when fundamentals are the focus and technique might not be crisp and helmet-to-helmet contact is more common.
Left tackle Jordan Morgan never minded the inadvertent head knocks, but he’s glad to have the extra padding all the same.
“It helps your brain a lot,” he said. “It’s smart for everybody on the interior. I’m used to just banging heads and stuff, but when you bang with that you can barely feel it.”
A much-needed day off
After going for about 90 or 100 minutes the first two days, Friday’s practice went more than two hours. There’s no workout on Saturday, though, enabling the Wildcats to go longer.
Training camp resumes Sunday at 10 a.m. PT, the first of another three consecutive days of practice (with full pads coming on Tuesday) before another off day. A 4-day practice stretch follows that will include the first scrimmage on Aug. 13.