Friday, May 2, 2014
Arizona spring wrap
By Kevin Gemmell
Three things we learned this spring about the Arizona Wildcats:
Three questions for fall:
- The wide receivers are good: How good? Well, that probably depends on the quarterback situation (see below). But Austin Hill is back from injury after being a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist in 2012 and transfer Cayleb Jones is an awards candidate. Davonte' Neal also adds an intriguing element that could make Arizona’s corps one of the best in the country.
- Secondary leadership: Key players, such as Jared Tevis, Jonathan McKnight and Jourdon Grandon impressed the coaching staff this spring. However the Wildcats have lost a few defensive backs here and there. So look for a safety -- or even a wide receiver or two -- to get some work at corner in the fall while that trio holds the group together.
- Solid line: Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele bring a lot of experience to a group that will have to make holes for a new running back and protect a new quarterback. The addition of Jim Michalczik as offensive line coach last season was a boost to the unit, which showed steady improvement throughout last season and is blossoming into one of the better lines in the league.
One way-too-early prediction: After back-to-back eight-win seasons in Rodriguez’s first two years, the Wildcats will surpass that win total and get to nine wins – which includes a third consecutive bowl win. The nonconference slate sets up for a 3-0 start. Then it’s a matter of finding five conference wins plus a bowl victory. In the third year of RichRod’s system – and with that WR stable – the Wildcats are capable of doing a lot of damage.
- QB of the O: Arizona has one of the most intriguing quarterback competitions in the country. The winner will likely have strong numbers running Rich Rodriguez’s offense. And with a group of wide receivers that stacks up with just about any other in the country, whoever runs the show will not be lacking in talented targets. As for settling on one guy…
- QB of the D: The departure of linebacker Jake Fischer leaves a defensive void as well as one in the locker room. Fisher was quietly one of the top linebackers in the league the last few years. Scooby Wright has the talent and will have to grow into a leadership role despite being a sophomore. Hank Hobson has dealt with injuries, but is capable.
- Something special: The Wildcats ranked in the bottom half of the league last year in kick and punt returns, though significant progress could be on the way with T.J. Johnson and Neal in the return game. Last year the Wildcats were ninth in kick returns (20.5 average) and seventh in punt returns (7.2 average).