Aug. 12, 2001
Quarterback Jason Johnson is beginning to get half the daily work after five days of Arizona's fall football training camp in his expected bid to take the reins of coach John Mackovic's new offense for the Wildcats' season opener Aug. 30 at San Diego State.
Johnson's ascendancy, a not unexpected development, should put the 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior from Puyallup, Wash., in the first real action of his career. He saw only limited mop-up action behind senior Ortege Jenkins in 2000 and has a handful of plays under his belt. Still, that puts him a notch ahead of sophomore Cliff Watkins and redshirt freshman John Rattay in terms of collegiate experience.
"Jason's moved to about 50 percent of the (practice) plays," Mackovic said Sunday after the Cats concluded their Sunday night practice in full pads. "We're going to have to get him to 65 percent before the first game, but we have to have people trained so Watkins and Rattay need to get work, too," he said.
"The offense is getting a little better. We threw everything at them today and put in a ton of stuff on both offense and defense. These guys learn well. We don't have to do a lot of extra repetitions to have them learn," Mackovic said.
Johnson was again effective in pass skeleton drills in Saturday's evening session and the lone practice Sunday, completing 11 of 15 passes for about 150 yards against live coverage, plus had moments finding the open receiver in full-line drills.
Unlike recent years when Arizona quarterbacks seemed to focus on big-play receivers like Dennis Northcutt and Bobby Wade, Mackovic's multiple-pro passing attack spreads the ball around using using a wide package of formations, and Johnson and the others have hit tight ends, halfbacks and fullbacks out of the backfield as well as a full complement of half a dozen wide receivers.
"The tight end group is among the largest I've had," Mackovic said, citing work by James Hugo, Justin Levasseur, Peter Hansen and Steve Fleming, among others. "As long as they can feel the routes, I'm confident our quarterbacks can get them the ball," he said. None has a collegiate pass reception yet, but the offensive scheme installed by Mackovic and coordinator Rick Dykes has put a premium on four to five pass routes each play.
UA will turn to a practice in only shorts and helmets Monday morning, then likely return to pads in the evening. Tuesday is a one practice day then Wednesday brings two sessions including some controlled scrimmaging during the afternoon practice on the team's field near McKale Center. Camp ends Aug. 18 and the team begins fall classes Monday, Aug. 20.
NOTES...Two true freshmen players appear to be making bids for action in 2001 -- safety Kirk Johnson and defensive end Carlos Williams. Both have been working with the second units. Johnson, 6-foot, 203, has shown a penchant for hard hitting and is a likely candidate for UA special teams as well. Williams, 6-foot-4, 270, reported as a tight end but moved to defensive end after a few days of freshman drills... Fleming, a 6-foot-6, 237-pound redshirt freshman, was a reserve quarterback last season but has seen some good action as a tight end in camp. "He's done a nice job," Mackovic said. He's been sidelined for several practices with a leg injury but should return to drills early in the week... Returning starting defensive tackle Anthony Thomas returned to practice over the weekend after missing the first few days of drills because of a dehydration problem the day before the first practice... Defensive end Johnny Jackson, a contender for a starting role, also returned to practice after a slow start because of a back problem... Non-scholarship receiver Burke Eiteljorg quit the team after Saturday night's practice, Mackovic said...