March 1, 2012
TUCSON--UA Head Football Coach Rich Rodriguezwill open -- almost -- 2012 spring football with a news conference this morning (11 a.m. MST) to brief the media on plans and expectations for the 15 permissible sessions slated in March and April.
The Cats begin on-the-field team workouts Monday after spending the last two months in conditioning drills. UA will also practice next Wednesday, and then resume a heavier slate of sessions beginning March 21 after the UA spring break.
Rodriguez will install a new offense and a new defense with the 87 players on hand for spring ball, bringing his noted spread-option attack and colleague Jeff Casteel's(defensive coordinator) 3-3-5 defensive scheme.
Much of the focus in spring, Rodriguez said, will be on evaluating players' capabilities for the new system. Normally spring ball is a a focus period on fundamentals but the entirely new staff needs some serious insight into Arizona's returning personnel, he said.
UA plans a scrimmage in the Phoenix area on March 24 and will close the action with the Spring Game on April 14 in Tucson. The location for the latter also is yet to be determined, while construction is under way on the $72 million north end zone football facility.
The two scrimmages are free and open to the public. Other spring practices are closed to the general public.
Arizona returns 55 lettermen from its 4-8 club of 2010, split evenly with 26 offensive players, 25 defenders and four specialists. The Cats could be said to return 14 starters, but every position is up for grabs with the new coaching staff.
Among units with clear contenders is the offensive line, however, which returns intact. Sophomore left tackle Mickey Baucus will be sidelined during spring after off-season back surgery, but he, senior center Kyle Quinn, junior guards Chris Putton and Trace Biskin and sophomore tackle Fabbians Ebbeleare expected to retain their positions after turning in a solid year as brand-new starters in 2011.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Matt Scott, who was able to redshirt 2011 during Nick Folessenior campaign, appears well-suited for Rodriguez's offensive scheme, and along with some other talented skill-position players will get immediate scrutiny. Scott is 5-1 as a quarterback-of-record in his UA career and averaged around 60 rushing yards in in starts, plus led the team to about 450 yards in total offense each of those games.
How Casteel and his defensive staff feel about returning personnel and its suitability for the new scheme is one question observers feel is key for spring ball. The Cats get back linebacker Jake Fischer, cornerback Jonathan McKnight and safety Adam Hall, all absent in 2011 because of injuries except for a one-game appearance from Hall, and also have some expected top contenders in CB Shaq Richardson, safety Marquis Flowers, and DBs Jourdon Grandon and Tra'Mayne Bondurant. Linemen Sione Tuihalamaka, Kirifi Taula, Dan Pettinato and Jowyn Wardalso are back.
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Coaching Staff Head Coach - Rich Rodriguez Defensive Coordinator/LBs - Jeff Casteel Co-Offensive Coordinator/RBs - Calvin Magee Co-Offensive Coordinator/QBs - Rod Smith Offensive Line - Robert Anae Receivers - Tony Dews Safeties/Defensive Special Teams - Tony Gibson Defensive Line - Bill Kirelawich Tight Ends/Offensive Special Teams - Spencer Leftwich Cornerbacks - David Lockwood
Some Spring Notes...
*Opponents threw the ball an average of 36 times a game last year. UA got to the QB for 23 sacks, once every 18 attempts. That won't work. Developing a pass rush will be a key to 2012 success. The last really prolific UA sack squad (46 in 1998) got to the QB once every nine throws). Desert Swarm did it once in 6.2 throws in 1993 when it set the school record with 59 sacks. Whether UA has the people to get it done this year remains to be seen, but no question it has to happen.
*Fifth-year senior quarterback Matt Scott is the right guy to run Rodriguez's system. His stewardship led Arizona to an average 451 yards in total offense in his five career starts (4-1 record). The Cats were unpredictable with him at the helm, noted by his average of 61 rushing yards in the five games. UA owes Mike Stoopsand staff for saving Scott's final year by keeping him on the sidelines as No. 2 in 2011.
*Knee injuries to linebacker Jake Fischer, safety Adam Hall and cornerback Jonathan McKnight in fall had a serious impact on Arizona's 2011 defense, sidelining three of its most active and talented players all year. Hall tried to return at mid-year but couldn't go. McKnight was thought to be the best cover man on the team, junior-to-be Fischer was a big-play versatile `backer and Hall was an on-the-ball physical presence. Their return in 2012 should be an immediate plus. Juniors Hall and Marquis Flowers figure to be two of the three safeties in the Jeff Casteel system while RS soph McKnight and junior Shaquille Richardson can be considered front runners on the corners. Sophs Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Cortez Johnson and Jourdan Grandonfigure to keep their freshman presence going, somewhere. All three started a number of games, and get to the ball. Blending this group under Casteel's style will be one of the intriguing factors in 2012 Arizona football.
*John Bonano's place kicking and kickoff talent will help UA in 2012. He took over the PK chores after six games in 2011, made all 24 of his PATs (an adventure before he took over), and eight of 12 field goals (a bigger adventure). He's been the kickoff specialist for 32 games, and gets it deep and high. There are contenders behind him but there his jobs.
*Punter Kyle Dugandzichad an individual average of 46.0 yards per kick after joining UA from the juco ranks a year ago, the second-best average in Arizona history. Improvement in and better coverage could help make him a better weapon in 2010. The Cats were hurt by two blocks and a bad snap that put their net punting at No. 12 in the Pac-12, at 33.8 yards per. It easily could have been No. 2 in the league without the miscues, right around 40.
*Attention to detail is a Rodriguez concept of note, and he will employ two special teams coordinators to lead the charge, coaches Tony Gibson and Spencer Leftwich. They'll head coverage and returns, respectively, and get some steady aid from all the position coaches to help put some special back in UA kicking teams. The Cats have the kickers and some return ability and will work like the dickens to fly around when the stuff is happening.
*Arizona's offensive line opened 2011 with a combined one career start, then-junior Kyle Quinn at center. His fifth-year senior leadership will be key to a group returning intact, along with several backups who had fill-in starts. Sophomore tackles Fabbians Ebbele (Sporting News Freshman All-America) and Mickey Baucus, and guards Chris Putton (junior) and Trace Biskin (senior) are back, all with a combined 56 starts, Guards Carter Lees (2) and Shane Zink (3) also started. Promising redshirt freshman Lene Maiava is poised to push, somewhere along with a couple of other youngsters. Bringing back line coach Robert Anaewill help continuity here, and it could be a UA strength. These guys bought into hard off-season work as quickly as any unit on the team, too. (They're smart.)
*Sophomore running back Ka'Deem Carey, the team's second leading rusher (425, 4.7 ypc, 6 TD) as a freshman, is capable of Pac-12 ascendancy. He and Daniel Jenkins have the most experience, along with H-backs Taimi Tutogi and Greg Nwoko (who missed 2011 with a knee injury rehab). Junior Kylan Butler and RS frosh Jared Bakeralso could factor in the backfield, but it's clear that Carey can be special. His three TDs at USC weren't runs of-the-mill, but a 27-yard run-and-catch, and a tough plunge and 16-yard red-zone effort on the ground.
*Arizona has eight home games (five league contests) in 2012. Protecting the home turf makes for a good starting point with such a schedule. The ZonaZoo student section is as good as any in the country, 10,000 strong right behind the home bench. UA has enjoyed solid home attendance of late and expects it to ramp up in 2012.
* Team spirit has manifested itself in some behind-the-scenes, simple accountability and mental-preparation chores for players. It will only get more intense through spring and beyond. Rodriguez is a no-nonsense guy who likes to have fun, and those sentiments don't conflict. But slob up the locker room, miss a drill or otherwise lose focus, and a guy will have some answering responsibilities. No question discipline will be a byword of Arizona football under Rich Rodriguez. He doesn't like to waste time in any endeavor and appears unlikely to permit that breach by any player.