Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Arizona.
Spring Practice Starts: March 5
Spring Game: April 14
Returning starters: Six offensive, five defensive, two specialists.
Three Things To Look For:
1. Is Matt Scott as snug a fit for Rich Rodriguez's offense as he seems to be? Many college football fans have probably forgotten about Scott, but that's not his fault; the fifth-year senior and de facto Wildcat starter made highly successful cameos in both 2009 and 2010 before injuries and the emergence of Nick Foles consigned him to the bench. Though he's not going to be Pat White or Denard Robinson, Scott has more than enough mobility to be a weapon on the run -- his two 2010 starts yielded more than 130 combined yards on the ground -- and sufficient accuracy to keep defenses plenty honest. In short, Scott should be exactly the sort of quarterback Rodriguez would have wanted to inherit, a sort of Tate Forcier-type with vastly more experience (and vastly less, you know, academic ineligibility and such). If spring camp shows signs that Scott's picking the offense up as quickly as Rodriguez would want, the Wildcat offense could be something dynamic come the fall.
2. Are you sure? Who are the difference-making skill-position players? If Rodriguez was handed a nice housewarming gift in the person of Scott, on paper he hasn't been nearly as lucky at running back or wide receiver. Both the Wildcats' leading rusher from a year ago (Keola Antonin) and receiver (All-American Juron Criner) have departed, not to mention the team's second- and third-leading receivers as well--2,232 receiving yards in all. The good news is that rising sophomore Ka'Deem Carey should be ready to build on a promising debut season in the backfield, and that 6'4" senior Dan Buckner should have a breakout season in the receiving corps; the bad news is that if they're not, Scott may be forced to shoulder a heavier load than even he's capable of carrying.
3. Can the defense stay healthy? With Rodriguez's old ace defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel back in his staffing fold -- a failing at Michigan that, more than any other individual factor, led to Rodriguez's downfall in Ann Arbor -- the Wildcats shouldn't lack for defensive know-how. And in safety tandem Adam Hall and Marquis Flowers, defensive linemen Justin Washington and Kirifi Taula, and linebacker Jake Fischer, Castell will have some tools to work with. But that assumes those tools stay healthy--Fischer tore an ACL in spring camp 2011 and missed the entire season, a blow from which the linebacking corps never seemed to truly recover. If Casteel can get out of this spring with all of his key pieces intact, the Wildcats should be able to take a step forward on the defensive side of the ball in 2012.
To check in on the rest of the Pac-12 and other BCS conferences, check out the Spring Practice Schedule.
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