With Arizona’s spring practice in the books, here’s what we know and what we learned about the Wildcats as we head into summer drills.
For the second time this decade, Rich Rodriguez is in danger of being fired for underperforming. After getting out of the gate quickly in Tucson, his Wildcats have gone 10-15 the past two seasons, including 3-9 a year ago. It’ll be tough to cull too much from spring drills since a large chunk of the eventual 2017 roster has yet to get to campus.
Arizona Wildcats Spring Practice Redux
1. Brooks Reed And Antoine Cason Aren’t Walking Through That Tunnel
It’s Year 2 for defensive coordinator Marcel Yates, whose unit allowed almost 44 points per Pac-12 game in 2016. Sure, the coaching familiarity and continuity will help, but only so much without the requisite personnel.
There are no Reeds or Casons, NFL-caliber defensive playmakers, roaming around Tucson these days. And that’s a considerable problem for Yates and the entire program. The Wildcats are bullish on DE Larry Tharpe Jr., who has trimmed unnecessary weight this offseason. And oft-injured, yet talented, LB DeAndre’ Miller made it through spring without incident. But Arizona remains painfully light on elite defensive talent, so any statistical improvements figure to be nominal in 2017.
2. Khalil Tate Making QB Race Interesting
The quarterback job is clearly junior Brandon Dawkins’ to lose. At a minimum, though, Tate narrowed the gap during spring camp.
Dawkins is one of the best running quarterbacks in the country, prompting veteran Anu Solomon to transfer to Baylor. However, Tate is genuflecting to no one in his sophomore season. He, too, can make things happen with his legs. And he was on target through the air in the Cats’ final spring scrimmage, connecting on 16-of-19 throws. While there’s still daylight between the two competitors, Tate is showing that he can push Dawkins, which is an encouraging sign for a passing game that needs a jolt after floundering a year ago.
3. Nick Wilson Has Backfield Support
Wilson is the Wildcats’ top back, rushing for 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns as a rookie in 2014. However, he’s often injured, carrying the ball just 55 times last fall. If Wilson pulls up lame this year, Arizona feels it has the situation covered.
Four-star true freshman Nathan Tilford not only participated in spring drills, but he also turned heads with his play. He’s the future at the position, and that future could begin in 2017 if Wilson leaves the door open. Arizona is also excited about the return of redshirt freshman J.J. Taylor, who was making plays in his debut before breaking his ankle in Week 4. Wilson better shake off the rust, because the underclassmen are gunning for touches in an offense that leans hard on the rushing attack.