Arizona has more than 20 people assisting in the operation of a single football practice. Horn blowers. Time-keepers. Videographers. People who put ice in the cold tubs. There is even someone in charge of the sound system.
There is no excessive smiling.
Rich Rodriguez’s “HARD EDGE” manifesto has been painted in 20-foot high letters on a berm above the practice fields. It’s a reminder that if you want to kick back, join the surfing team.
College football practices have long been tedious and repetitive, but one thing has changed. Nobody sits and watches from the sideline anymore. It has the pace of a NASCAR pit stop.
Rodriguez is so engaged and intense that you wonder if he’s the guy who put the “no” in no-nonsense. If you’re going to win at a place that isn’t USC or UCLA, there is no other way.
But even RichRod knows when to give a guy a break.
At the end of Wednesday’s long and hot practice at Kindall/Sancet Stadium, he had punter Drew Riggleman kick to the guards, tackles and centers while everyone else watched.
How much the team ran (or didn’t run) conditioning drills would depend on how many punts the 300-pound linemen could catch.
It was hilarious. If ESPN had access to the video, it would win the “Not Top-10” highlights in a runaway. Fumble. Fumble. Fumble. Fumble. Fumble.
At 8:30 p.m., the Wildcats left the field exhausted but happy.
But even in a team-bonding moment, RichRod kept his hard edge.
“Those guys wanted Drew to kick them soft balls,” he said. “But I told him to kick them high, in the lights, to challenge them.”
Arizona has held five practices in training camp and has miles to go before it is ready to play anybody on Aug. 29. It has to identify a quarterback, a tailback, a cornerback and a kicker, which are four of the most demanding positions in football. There won’t be many days that the Wildcats leave the field smiling before the opener against UNLV.
Almost every team in the Pac-12 has a different approach to training camp.
UCLA bunks at nearby San Bernardino, California, and invites the public to every workout. It’s LA-casual.
Oregon State so embraces its football community that all Beavers practices are open to the public. Even better, OSU will hold a “BBQ With The Beavers” on Friday night, a gala event that includes the marching band, cheerleaders and some orange ice cream.
The Beavers also take every Sunday off.
That’s not the way Washington State’s Mike Leach does it. He opens with 12 consecutive middle-of-the-afternoon practices at a remote Middle School in Lewiston, Idaho.
The Oregon Ducks close their drills, as do the Utah Utes and ASU Sun Devils.
Colorado and Cal open the gates to all visitors until Aug. 18, but once game-day strategy and depth chart issues develop, both shut down access and clam up.
Arizona, by comparison, opened Wednesday’s practice to Wildcat Club members, and will do something similar Saturday.
After that, it’s hard-edge time all the time.
Closed practices should not be an issue in college football. I suspect if the public were given access to all college football practices, attendance would soon diminish to nothing. There would be no demand because it’s no fun.
In most cases, and especially this month at Arizona, there is no ground-breaking news. There is no Johnny Manziel circus. The biggest news of Arizona’s training camp: Tra’Mayne Bondurant has been on/off the team.
He’s a defensive back.
And even if Arizona opened all of its preseason practices to the public, you might not learn anything. Even Mel Kiper Jr. couldn’t give you an accurate update on the four-man UA quarterback derby given the pace of practice and the system of shuttling players in and out.
If you can’t break down the plays on film with the coaches, you’re mostly lost.
What I found most useful about Wednesday’s practice was that you can start matching names with jersey numbers. You’ve got to look twice (or more) to tell the difference between potential starting tailback Terris Jones-Grigsby and emerging defensive back Tellas Jones.
Tellas Jones wears jersey No. 1. But so does receiver Cayleb Jones, a former Texas Longhorn who is one of 13 “second-chance” transfer players on the roster.
It’s going to take a while.
My three impressions from Wednesday’s practice were:
1. Freshman cornerback Cam Denson of Salpointe Catholic can play. He intercepted a pass on a twisting, body-on-body play, and later broke up a pass on the goal-line. He needs to gain 10 or 15 pounds by next season, but he’s obviously a Pac-12 talent.
2. Senior receiver Austin Hill, who caught 81 passes two years ago, can still go deep. After missing the 2013 season with a knee injury, Hill broke free on Wednesday and he’s nobody’s pushover. Hill is listed at 6 feet 3 inches and 215 pounds.
3. Arizona’s offensive line is the strength of the team. No, it can’t catch punts. But the size, experience and skill of, among others, Mickey Baucus, Fabbians Ebbele and Steven Gurrola, is going to buy some time while a quarterback emerges in September.
At the end of Wednesday’s practice, about 40 Wildcats crowded into five large tubs filled with ice water. Senior cornerback Jonathan McKnight was the last to arrive. He removed his shoulder pads and sat on a folding chair, waiting to get iced.
In a month or two, college football will be accompanied by a chill in the air.
Until then, you try to keep your cool.