Tucson (Arizona Athletics)- University of Arizona football head coach Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats began the 2014 season on Saturday with the first official practice of fall camp in Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats worked out in helmets and shorts on Saturday, practicing in a slight drizzle.
"I thought it was okay," Rodriguez said. "I didn't expect it to be smooth all the way through and it wasn't. The effort was good and the intensity was good. We aren't playing a game for a while so I'm not worried. I would be worried if they weren't excited to practice but I thought they were really ready and excited to practice so it's all good."
Rodriguez has elected to stick with evening practices each day until Thursday, when the Wildcats will have their first two-a-day, sessions at 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Depending on the weather and coaches' preference, the team will switch back-and-forth between Kindall Field/Sancet Stadium and Arizona Stadium for the practice locations.
"I just want to see them ready to play ball," Rodriguez said. "I used to wonder what kind of shape the guys would be in, but now, we're around them more in the summer so I knew who was in shape and who was out of shape."
The Wildcats had six quarterbacks get reps on Saturday evening, Texas-transfer sophomore Connor Brewer, JUCO-transfer junior Jerrard Randall, senior Jesse Scroggins (USC/El Camino College), redshirt freshman Anu Solomon and freshmen Brandon Dawkins and Zach Werlinger.
"I just want them to execute the offense," Rodriguez said. "That sounds simplistic and it really is. I want guys that make plays when they are supposed to, execute when they are supposed to and not be stupid. I think the quarterbacks are a little further along this year than we were last year. But I know this, B.J. Denker worked his tail off to get better through August camp and I think these guys will do the same thing. I think the talent is there at quarterback, now it's just a matter of them being more consistent."
At Pac-12 Media Day, Rodriguez said that the Wildcats have eight receivers that are ready to play. He did not exaggerate, the quarterbacks had a plethora of different targets, including senior Austin Hill. Hill is a member of the watch lists for the 2014 Maxwell (offensive player), Biletnikoff (receiver) and Walter Camp (top player) Awards.
With Ka'Deem Carey now in the NFL with the Chicago Bears, redshirt junior Jared Baker, redshirt freshman Zach Green, senior Terris Jones-Grigsby and others got reps at the position on Saturday. Baker is back in action after sitting out the spring due to injury.
"Guys that we think have established a first or second-string position will be out there first," Rodriguez said. "But for positions like quarterback and running back it is a little bit more random. We have to pair it down in two weeks but right now we're trying to get everybody reps. Some of the freshmen won't be thrown out there and getting a whole lot of reps because they don't know what's going on. We'll sort it out."
Arizona football practices are known for their speed, the student-athletes run from position to position and everything is on a tight schedule. For the freshmen, it can be overwhelming, but getting comfortable being uncomfortable is all part of the process.
"A lot of teams separate the freshman and have them practice by themselves for the first couple days," Rodriguez said. "I like them to feel the intensity and feel what it's going to be like. So, we throw them right in the mix. Some of them are a little bit lost but my staff does a really good job of getting them up to speed. I like putting everybody in stressful situations during practice, like I always say, I want them to be comfortable being uncomfortable. The freshmen are really uncomfortable right now but they'll fight through it."
After practice, the coaches and student-athletes were treated to dinner in Bear Down Kitchen. They will return to the practice field on Sunday at 5:30 p.m.