Mike Stoops, who enters his fourth fall camp as head coach of the Wildcats, roamed back and forth between the offensive and defensive units throughout practice. While mostly calm and seemingly pleased with the effort and performance of the squad, Stoops did not hesitate to jump in and direct players to their proper alignments and clarify their assignments when necessary.
"I thought it was a good day," Stoops explained to the media following practice. "You can see weˇ?ve made a lot of improvement. Physically, we look better. The speed and velocity that we play at is different."
"Our team is much more experienced and confident than in years past," Stoops added.
After some brief pre-practice drills and a warm-up period, practice began at approximately 5:45 p.m. The team began with a place-kicking segment, before splitting up between offensive and defensive units, where they worked on individual drills for a solid half hour.
Among the drills run by the offense is a passing drill featuring five wide receivers and five quarterbacks. The wide receivers line up in a called formation, running their designated passing route. Each route has one of the five quarterbacks throwing to that receiver, leaving absolutely no repetition wasted, and allowing every player on the offense to get work in.
As the two units came together for their "middle drills", which focus on inside running plays featuring all but wide receivers and cornerbacks, junior quarterback Willie Tuitama broke up an animated defense huddle that was hyping itself up for the drill with some pushing and shoving, which playfully sparked the competitiveness of the drill.
At the same time, other quarterbacks worked with the wide receivers and cornerbacks for some one-on-one competition. While its often a fun and competitive drill, fundamentals are constantly stressed by the coaching staff, particularly first-year wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt, a stickler for details.
On one play, Terrell Reese hauled in a pass along the left sideline, but turned up field with the ball tucked in his right arm, away from the sideline. Immediately, Wyatt barked at Reese, "Gotta have that ball in the outside arm!" A few plays later, Wyatt instructed another receiver, "You gotta turn to the outside, not the inside."
The next segment of practice was a half hour of special teams work, dedicated to the punt units. There was no live punting or returning however, as the players split into various groups to work on their assignments for the punt and punt return teams.
After a short break, the skill position players came together for a 7-on-7 skeleton passing period. Tuitama took the majority of the repetitions, while senior Kris Heavner got reps as well.
Tuitama completed 14 of 18 attempts, but did get off to a slow start against the first team defense. His first pass was thrown in complete, before he connected with B.J. Dennard for a 10-yard catch. However, his next two attempts were completed to running backs Terry Longbons and Glyndon Bolasky for little gain on swing passes after checking down because of solid defensive coverage.
Tuitama and the offense finally started to click as he connected with Delashaun Dean for a 15-yard catch across the middle. Two plays later, he threw a rope to Anothony Johnson along the right side of the field in between two levels of the defense for a 25-yard completion. He then hit Dean again for a pickup of 20 yards later in the segment, while throwing a pair of 10-yard completions to Reese.
However, the highlight of the drill was likely a perfect toss to Terrell Turner 25-yards downfield, who was behind the defense easily for a touchdown.
To end practice, the entire offense and defense came together for a half hour of 11-on-11 action. The offense again got off to a slow start as Tuitama could not connect on his first two attempts, including one which was batted down at the line of scrimmage. A short completion to Johnson was followed by two more incompletions, one of which fell out of the hands of cornerback Devin Ross who nearly had an interception.
The offense would find its rhythm on the ground, as Chris Jennings had consecutive rushes for five yards before first contact. That opened up the pass as a few plays later Tuitama would connect with Dean for a leaping 25-yard completion along the right sideline. Later in the session, Tuitama connected with Mike Turner for a gain of 15 yards over the middle, as well as Reese for 20 more yards.
Defensively, Ross picked up another pass broken up, as did linebacker Cole Graybill, while Louis Holmes and Jonathon Turner split a sack of Tuitama (play blown dead, no contact).
All-in-all, it was a productive first day for the Wildcats, who are hoping to stay healthy throughout camp, unlike the past couple of seasons. So far so good in that category.
Arizona will be back out at the Rincon Vista Complex tomorrow evening for another workout slated to begin at 5:45 p.m. As always, the time and location of practice is subject to change due to weather and field conditions.
NOTES: Nearly 75 fans attended Thursdayˇ?s practice ˇ? Day 1 was completed with no change to the practice schedule, as the monsoon thunderstorms cooperated and stayed away from the Tucson area ˇ? Mike Stoops is pleased with what he has seen so far from his newest freshmen class, saying "I think there are some impressive freshmen." ˇ? Along with the freshman class, there was another newcomer at Fall Camp: Mike Stoopsˇ? wife Nicole and their two children, Payton and Colton, brought out the familyˇ?s new puppy, Jesse, a male mug ˇ? Stoops also noted the depth at the TE spot this year, where Brandyn McCall, Travis Bell, A.J. Simmons and true freshman Rob Gronkowski are battling for playing time ˇ? During the place-kicking segment, Jason Bondzio connected on all three of his attempts (28, 31 and 35 yards), while freshman Alex Zendejas was good on two of three attempts (made from 33 and 37, missed from 28) ˇ? CB Marquis Hundley recorded a pass broken up in 7-on-7s ˇ? Tuitama was pleased with the way the offense debuted, saying "One thing we talked about as an offense was to come out and set the tempo early," something he feels the offense did during the first day.