TUCSON--UA opened spring football drills Monday and was steady on course in its off-season preparations for what the head man feels represents a grueling 2006 season.
Coach Mike Stoops said at his news conference before drills that the 2006 "schedule is probably the toughest of them all" in his three-year tenure.
UA officials added Brigham Young as the Wildcats' opener on Sept. 2, plus the Cats have their second game on the road in 92,400-seat Tiger Stadium -- "Death Valley" in the local vernacular -- at LSU. The 2006 season also represents the first year of full round-robin play in the Pac-10, with nine games against conference opponents.
"We'll be much more prepared to play it, but there's going to be some unbelievable football through the first month of the season," Stoops said. After the Cats' trip to LSU, a home stand features Stephen F. Austin, the league opener against Southern California and game four against Washington. It's a five-game September slate that essentially can paint a quick picture of what type of year the Wildcats will have.
Practice Monday was all about fundamentals and establishing the pace for the 15 spring sessions. "We've come a long way. I like the way the kids went about today. We had good focus and concentration. I like the way they go about their business, and our experience is paying off," Stoops said.
As expected, depth at quarterback was a plus. Sophomore Willie Tuitama and seniors Adam Austin and Kris Heavner give the staff workout continuity heretofore unheard of in Stoops' two previous spring camps.
Junior tailback Chris Henry is running as the No. 1 back, a status he'll have to prove his worthiness for, Stoops said, but a task the speedster's talent could well give a different shape to UA's running attack. "We'll be faster in the backfield with Chris, Xavier (Smith), (Terry) Longbons and a couple of freshmen (Derke Robinson, Glyndon Bolasky) arriving in fall."
The good health of UA's linebacking trio -- Ronnie Palmer, Spencer Larsen and Dane Krogstad -- is of special help, Stoops said after practice. "Having those three linebackers in there really makes a big difference in our defense." Last spring, it was in the works with all three as starters, but injuries to all thwarted that trio from starting together in any '05 games.
CAT NIPS... Stoops mentioned on Monday that Arizona still was working on roster additions on the defensive side for the fall, although recruiting processes and personalities involved have to remain shielded under NCAA rules... Former UA offensive tackle Vincent Smith, a sometime starter and three-year letterman whose senior year coincided with Arizona's initial 'Desert Swarm' season in 1992, attended practice Monday. He's the new head coach at nearby Tucson High School and was an assistant at Locke High School in Los Angeles where current UA sophomore safety Michael Klyce played in 2004. Smith also graduated from Locke and as a Los Angeles guy is familiar with a number of Wildcats from the Southland, where he says Stoops and staff are making a huge recruiting impact... Junior college transfer James Tretheway, a 6-foot-6, 300-pound All-American, appears to have some position flexibility and a chance for some serious time on the offensive line, which Stoops says should be at double-unit strength this year. Tretheway, from San Mateo College in the Bay Area, enrolled at mid year. He's working at three different positions up front... Senior tight end Brad Wood, who had knee surgery right after the ASU finale, is the lone key guy slated to miss the formation work in spring. He'll be rehabilitating and conditioning for a fall camp return... With Wood out, sophomore Travis Bell, redshirt junior Brandyn McCall and sophomore Ryan Kilpatrick are contending for status... Running back Chris Henry (19) switched to his high school jersey number... Sophomore receiver Gerold Rodriguez could get an audition at cornerback, where UA is a bit thin until the fall arrival of a pair of freshmen...