A year ago at this time, Shawn Poindexter was more of a prototype than a viable college wide receiver.
At 6 feet 5 inches and 210 pounds, Poindexter had ideal size. He had plenty of athleticism, having played basketball and volleyball in high school. But he had a relatively limited football background when he joined the Arizona Wildcats as a junior college transfer, and it showed.
“I didn’t know how much knowing the system and knowing the plays helped until I started seeing the new guys, the freshmen, running plays, and how unconfident they look at times,” Poindexter said. “That kind of reminds me of how I was last year.
“Every time I stepped on the field I was like, ‘Dang.’ It felt fast to me. I know this year it’ll be slower. I’ll be more used to it. Now I really understand what it takes.”
Poindexter, a senior, is expected to start for Arizona, which opens the season a week from Saturday against Northern Arizona. He has come a long way in a short time.
Poindexter was a late addition to Arizona’s 2016 recruiting class after one highly productive season at Glendale Community College (47 catches, 727 yards, seven touchdowns). Coming out of high school, he signed with Cal Baptist to play volleyball. But Poindexter never enrolled there.
When he arrived in Tucson, he basically had two seasons of football on his résumé: one at Peoria Centennial High, one at Glendale.
Poindexter appeared in 10 games last season, catching six passes for 82 yards. He got hurt in Week 4 against Washington and wasn’t quite right the rest of the year.
Poindexter had a productive spring, and he has elevated his game in multiple ways during preseason camp.
He has a much firmer grasp of the playbook, enabling him to focus on the techniques that are essential to defeating college cornerbacks. He also is learning how best to utilize his big body.
“He’s a different ballplayer right now,” said Rod Smith, Arizona’s co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “He’s much more confident. You can just tell.
“He’s attacking the football instead of letting the ball come to him. His route-running has gotten better. It’s good to see him really come on and become the guy we thought he could be.”
Poindexter has come to appreciate the value of preparation, from watching extra film to making sure he’s eating properly and hydrating sufficiently. He said he “constantly” thinks about football.
“And then you’ve got to live right, because how you do anything is how you do everything,” Poindexter said. “It’s consistency that keeps you going.”
Poindexter has a varied routine when it comes to studying film. When he’s at the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, he’ll focus on practice tape — how to go about beating Arizona’s corners. At home, he’ll watch other receivers to see how they get off the line or come out of their breaks.
And not just similarly big-bodied receivers such as future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals. Poindexter also tries to pick up techniques from smaller, quicker wideouts such as Odell Beckham Jr. Poindexter’s father recently sent him clips of Jerry Rice.
“He’s just getting more football-minded,” UA quarterback Brandon Dawkins said. “You can’t come and play college football off the street. He’s getting a lot of it down.
“Especially at receiver, there’s a lot of technique — how to get off press coverage, how to run your routes. You see him being more solid in his movements. He has the physical stature to be one of the best receivers in the Pac-12. Once we can get him to start really using his body to its full potential, he’s going to be a real big threat for us.”
It’s still all theoretical, of course. Poindexter’s profile consists more of potential than production at this point. He still has to prove himself against legitimate competition.
But Poindexter seems to have the right approach. That matters as much as his measurables.
“He cares,” receivers coach Theron Aych said. “He wears that on his sleeve. He probably is the guy that works harder than anybody besides Shun Brown out there.
“He always takes things seriously. He’s the first guy out on the field. He’s the last guy to leave. That type of guy, that type of leadership, is something we need in the receiver room.”
- Arizona could play as many as six freshmen at one time on defense this season. How does that make UA coach Rich Rodriguez feel? “It makes you a little nervous from an experience standpoint,” he said, “but also excited that there’s some talented guys that can help us right away.”
- Rodriguez compared the talent of the current freshman linebackers to the class of 2013, which featured Scooby Wright, Derrick Turituri and DeAndre’ Miller.
- The influx of freshmen will have a positive impact on Arizona’s special teams, which weren’t good in 2016. Rodriguez said the special-teams depth chart has been changing daily.
- It doesn’t appear as if JC transfer Sione Taufahema, who recently returned from knee surgery, will be part of Arizona’s defensive line rotation to start the season.
- Freshman Lucas Havrisik “more than likely” will be Arizona’s kickoff specialist, Rodriguez said. He added that Havrisik and veteran Josh Pollack are “kind of tied” for the placekicking job.
- The Wildcats are fighting through the dog-days portion of August right now. They’re in their fourth week of practice but can see game week on the horizon. “You’ve just got to keep pressing the sense of urgency, making sure guys understand how important it is to get ready,” Rodriguez said. “You don’t want to wake up next Saturday and feel like you’re unprepared.”
- Rodriguez on players watching film in summer: “That’s all good. I’d rather have them watch that than ‘SpongeBob SquarePants.’”
- NFL scouts representing the Redskins, Cowboys and Rams attended practice.