Scott Boone hasn’t seen much of Tucson since he became the Arizona Wildcats’ linebackers coach in late December. He has spent most of his time in his office or in his apartment. He made it out to Hi Corbett Field for a couple of UA baseball games over the weekend, but that’s about it.
Boone is busy trying to learn a new defense and coach up a unit that’s in the midst of significant turnover.
After serving as Nevada’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach the past three seasons, Boone is hoping to help Arizona DC Marcel Yates turn around a defense that ranked 115th in the nation last year.
Boone addressed the local media for the first time after Arizona’s second spring practice Monday afternoon. Here’s a portion of that conversation:
How different is this defense from what you’re accustomed to?
A: “It’s not that much different. It’s just terminology. When you’re coaching linebackers, it’s pretty simple: You just get them lined up in the right spots and get them in the right gaps. It doesn’t matter what defense you call. They’ve just got to know where they belong, what their fit is and how they react to their keys.”
What’s your initial impression of the linebackers that are here now?
A: “They’re a hardworking group, and they’re hungry to learn what we’re doing. They don’t have a lot of game experience, so there’s not a lot of reflection on what they did last year. It was a clean slate for them, a clean slate for me. I just brought them in and said, ‘This is a meritocracy. You’re going to be judged on what you do from this point forward. What you’ve done in the past doesn’t really mean a lot to us in the big picture.’ They’ve embraced that. For some of the guys, it’s a fresh start. They’re excited about that.”
You have defensive coordinator experience. How does that help you and the team?
A: “The fact that I’ve been in situations and called games for six or seven years, it’s a great opportunity for me to be a sounding board for Marcel. I’m not going to try to insert anything he doesn’t want to hear, but if he wants something, I’ll be able to talk to him in terms of, ‘I’ve been in this situation. Here’s what I did. If you like it, we’ll do it. If you don’t, it’s fine.’ ”
You’ve known Rich Rodriguez for a long time. What’s the genesis of that relationship?
A: “I was coaching at a small school in Indiana, Wabash College. Rich was at Glenville State. It was a long time ago. I was coaching offense back then. I spent a lot of time with Rich learning the offense. I was running a lot of what Rich does. I spent time with him when he was at Clemson (and) West Virginia, just trying to learn the fine points of the spread when he first invented it.
“It’s been a good, long relationship. When I was at Nevada and we were playing each other, I’d reach out to him (or) he’d reach out to me during the season, wish him good luck, congratulate him after a big win. It helped me (get to) where I’m at right now.”
Rodriguez did not have many complimentary words for last year’s defense. “It was bad,” he said. “It wasn’t for effort or coaches not trying hard. We just weren’t good. We weren’t good in any phase.”
But Rodriguez is bullish on the defense’s prospects for a quick turnaround: “I’m completely, 100 percent confident that not only will we be better defensively, we’ll be infinitely better.”
Rodriguez, in the course of making general remarks about practice, offered this about the passing game: “We’ve still got to get better, particularly at quarterback. We’ve got to get better throwing the ball.”
• Rodriguez said tailbacks Nick Wilson and J.J. Taylor took minimal reps. They’re on a pitch count, essentially. The beneficiary is freshman Nathan Tilford, who’s getting tons of reps.
• Safety-turned-linebacker Gavin Robertson, a redshirt freshman, is listed at 6-1, 210 pounds. He said he has grown to 6-3, 225.
• Rodriguez indicated that offensive lineman Michael Eletise did not practice again because of an undisclosed injury. He could be back later this week.
• Harper Sherman, another redshirt-freshman offensive lineman, left practice on crutches with an ice pack on his right foot.
• Receiver Cedric Peterson had a green jersey on, a possible sign of progress after he worked on the side in a yellow jersey Saturday.
• Defensive end Jalen Cochran, who was limited to side work Saturday, did not have a helmet as he left the practice field.