This is the second in a series reviewing spring football camps in the Pac-12. Today, Arizona.
Starters returning – 12 (6 on offense, 6 on defense), plus two kickers.
Refresher on 2011 – After a wicked schedule to start the season, Arizona floundered and on Oct. 10, Wildcats AD Greg Byrne dismissed head coach Mike Stoops, inserting interim coach Tim Kish for the rest of the season. The ‘Cats blew out UCLA in their next game, surprised Arizona State and completed a 4-8 season. QB Nick Foles is off to the NFL, having completed 69 percent of his throws but with 14 interceptions. Also departing was leading rusher Keola Antolin (only 568 yards) and the top three receivers, including Juron Criner.
Coaching changes – Before Thanksgiving, Byrne named ex-West Virginia and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, who had been sitting out the season, to the Arizona job.
Major spring concerns – Installing Rodriguez’ spread offense, as well as adjusting to the 3-3-5 scheme of new defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, who comes from the West Virginia staff . . . LB depth and last year’s special-teams problems . . . pass rush is a key, as the ‘Cats had only 10 sacks last year – last in the conference — and averaged only one per 18 pass attempts by the offense . . . ‘Zona rushed for only 1,134 yards in 2011, 805 fewer than opponents.
Developments – Rodriguez’ offense seems well suited for QB Matt Scott, who showed well as a two-way threat in relief of Foles in the past . . . ‘Cats get back LB Jake Fischer and CB Jonathan McKnight, each of whom missed 2011 with knee injuries (though McKnight missed contact work and is still rehabbing). But safety Adam Hall, who tore up his right knee a year ago, played briefly in mid-2011 and then returned to the sideline, blew the same ACL and is out . . . soph CB Cortez Johnson transferred out during spring drills . . . the secondary took some bad hits, as Jourdan Grandon, sophomore safety, missed most of drills while suspended for an alleged assault at an off-campus party. . . also suspended as a result of the same incident was OT Fabbians Ebbele, while three other ‘Cats alleged to be involved but not charged with assault continued to practice . . . a visitor to a late-March practice was Ken Griffey Jr., whose son Trey, a wide receiver, was a February signee . . . former head coach Stoops caused a stir when he told a CBSSports.com writer, questioning Arizona’s facilities and commitment, “We were playing at a BCS level and I feel I was fighting with a toothpick and they’ve got a bat.” . . . TucsonCitizen.com cited three young emerging players: Soph walk-on safety Jared Tevis, a Tucson product whom Rodriguez praised as being one of the most consistent defenders; soph WR Tyler Slavin, who gets an opportunity with many of the top wideouts, including Criner, now gone; and junior CB Derrick Rainey . . . smallish WR Garic Wharton (5-11, 163) figures in with good speed after moving from inside to outside . . . Rodriguez cited an overall lack of depth and conditioning, which seems to augur a tough summer of “voluntary” drills for Arizona . . . Rodriguez has been able to project a more willing and friendly face publicly than Stoops did.
Spring game – Offense had the better day, as the Wildcats finished Apr. 14 at Kino Stadium (the Tucson Padres baseball park) in front of about 5,000. The ‘Cats threw 55 times and ran it 43 and converted 10 of 20 third-down attempts. Scott threw for 315 yards on 22 of 35 with four TDs.
2012 schedule – It’s a home-based agenda, as ‘Zona opens with three straight non-league games – Toledo, perennial UA pest Oklahoma State and South Carolina State. Then it’s off to Eugene for a hard-reality Pac-12 opener. ‘Cats miss Washington State and Cal.