Arizona football reports for fall camp, ready for the season
TUCSON (Arizona Athletics) - The college football season is just a few weeks away and on Friday the Arizona Wildcats reported for fall camp.
"It's exciting! We've been working ever since our bowl game last year to get back on the field," said Offensive Lineman Mickey Baucus.
The Rich Rodriguez era continues in 2014 when the Wildcats look to build on their 16-10 record and back-to-back bowl wins in his first two seasons at the helm of the program. An innovator of the hurry up, no huddle, spread offense, Rodriguez and his staff have assembled a squad for 2014 that looks to carry on the excitement and culture that has been in the works for the past 24 months. This season looks to be a stepping stone towards building a concrete and complete program here in the Old Pueblo.
The Wildcats' offense, stout and dangerous in 2012 and 2013, will have a different look to it in 2014. Charged with replacing quarterback B.J. Denker and all-time leading rusher Ka'Deem Carey, Rodriguez will look to position groups that have virtually no in-game experience. A solid summer of conditioning and skill development, coupled with a strong showing in fall camp, will hopefully produce two players ready and able to take over at critical skill positions.
At quarterback, the Wildcats repped 7-8 players during spring ball and will look to narrow that down to four for fall camp. In the mix are Texas-transfer sophomore Connor Brewer, JUCO-transfer junior Jerrard Randall, senior Jesse Scroggins (USC/El Camino College) and redshirt freshman Anu Solomon.
Baucus said, "We've a few guys that we know can get that job done but it helps that we have an experienced group up front, so we feel like we can make their transition easier."
While the quarterback situation is still unsure, the veteran offensive line is in position to block for an offense that's averaged 458.5 (2013) and 526.2 (2012) yards per game the last two seasons. Arizona returns four of its five starters from 2013 (104 career starts total) with nine underclassmen filling out the depth chart. The group blocked for Arizona to average 264.9 rushing yards per game and allowed just 1.31 sacks per game in 2013, both figures ranked second in the Pac-12
Mickey Baucus (left) and Fabbians Ebbele (right) have been consistent bookends for the line while Steven Gurrola, a member of the 2014 Rimington Trophy Watch List, was a consistent anchor in 2013. Look to redshirt juniors Lene Maiava and Faitele Faafoi to fill holes and provide relief as both have in-game and starting experience.
Luckily for whoever is named starting signal caller, the 2014 receiving corps is ready and willing. A familiar face is back in the fold in senior receiver Austin Hill. He missed 2013 with a knee injury but is back for 2014 with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Two years ago, he totaled 81 catches for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns to lead the Wildcat receivers while ranking No. 2 in the Pac-12 in total receiving yards (1,364) and yards per game (104.9).
Enormous shoes were left to fill when Carey declared for the NFL Draft. During spring practices, redshirt freshman Zach Green and senior Terris Jones-Grigsby took a majority of the reps at running back while junior Jared Baker out while rehabbing a knee injury.
Under Jeff Casteel's direction, Arizona's total defense improved by nearly 100 yards per game (fifth-most improved defense in the country), giving up 499 yards per game in 2012 to 401.1 yards per game in 2013. The Wildcats have seen an improvement of 1.3 yards per play, 1.8 yards per pass and 0.6 yards per rush.
Depth has been a common theme for the Wildcat defense over the last two seasons. It changes some for 2014, where depth is stronger in the secondary and slightly weaker on the line. The Cats looks to replace seniors Jake Fischer, Marquis Flowers, Sione Tuihalamaka and Tevis Hood, who combined for 121 career starts.
The corners are led by seniors Jonathan McKnight and Jourdon Grandon, who also takes on a free safety roll. McKnight broke up a team-leading eight passes to go with his 54 tackles. Senior Brendan Murphy and sophomore Devin Holiday also have in-game experience.
"We all know what we have to do we are all acclamated with the system. We all have our eyes on the same things, we're trying to have a great season," said Cornerback Jourdon Grandon.
The "spurs" and "bandits" play a hybrid safety/linebacker position with seniors Tra'Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis, who combine for 52 career starts and 368 career tackles. Bondurant picked off four interceptions for 79 returns yards and two touchdowns in 2013. Tevis is a member of the watch lists for the 2014 Lott IMPACT Trophy (character and performance) and the Bronko Nagurski Award (defensive player). He's also a nominee for the AFCA Allstate Good Works Team.
Arizona opens on Fri., Aug. 29 vs. UNLV. In 2013.