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Arizona football: Intriguing spring for UA

2013-03-02T00:00:00Z Arizona football: Intriguing spring for UADaniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 02, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Whether it's been at West Virginia, Michigan or even Glenville State, Rich Rodriguez has the same goal when it comes to spring practice.

Win the spring game.

"Let's face it," Rodriguez said. "If I can't win the spring game, we're going to have a long year."

One year in the Pac-12 certainly hasn't stripped Rodriguez of his sense of humor.

What does he really want to see when the Wildcats open spring ball today at 9 a.m.?

"We want our practices to be very competitive," the second-year coach said. "You can do that a little more because you're not preparing for a game.

"It will be geared so everyone is happy after the spring game - including myself."

The Wildcats will practice 13 times leading up to an April 13 spring game. Here are the 13 storylines we're most excited to see in spring practice 2013.

1. Ka'Deem Carey back on the field

Rodriguez and his staff are hopeful Carey's off-field problems are behind him. If they are, this will be our first look at the Heisman Trophy candidate.

Carey, who led the nation in rushing as a sophomore with 1,929 yards, will be the main piece on offense with no Matt Scott around. He's healthy, has a better understanding of Rodriguez's offense and is set to have a big year.

2. B.J. Denker's shot at the starting QB job

With Jesse Scroggins sidelined after foot surgery and Anu Solomon still in high school, Denker will get the keys to the offense first.

What can he do with them? The Torrance, Calif., native built up trust with Rodriguez last year as Scott's backup and will try to stay on his good side this spring.

3. Which redshirts are ready to make an impact?

The Wildcats have 18 players on their roster this spring that redshirted in 2012.

Which one will be noticed most in coming practices? Our bets are on wide receivers Trey Griffey and Clive Georges or safety Yamen Sanders.

4. The battle for center

Since Colin Baxter took over as the starting center during the 2008 season, the Wildcats have been productive at the position.

Baxter owned the spot for three seasons and Kyle Quinn was strong there the past two seasons. When Quinn was injured, backup Addison Bachman was more than serviceable filling in.

Salpointe Catholic graduate Jacob Arzouman may be the most likely to start there this season, but he'll be sidelined this spring, recovering from a torn ACL.

5. Jake Smith's quest to be place-kicker

The Syracuse and Youngstown State transfer is the early favorite to take John Bonano's spot at kicker.

Smith was battling Bonano for the job in summer practice, but was forced to redshirt with a leg injury.

He'll face competition from Colorado State transfer Alex Ragsdale and Phoenix Brophy Prep product Casey Skowron.

6. Tevin Hood's response to New Mexico Bowl

Most people probably remember Hood from his sideline scuffle with teammate Cody Ippolito at the New Mexico Bowl.

The coaches likely remember his team-high 10 tackles against Arizona State and a defensive lineman that got better as the year went on.

Can Hood build on the strong game against ASU and be a difference maker for the Wildcats defense this year?

7. Austin Hill leading the wide receivers

Lost in Scott and Carey's splendid 2012 seasons was Hill's banner year.

The Corona, Calif., native had the third most single-season receiving yards in program history last year with 1,364. He caught 81 passes and his 11 touchdowns were more than double that of the next highest Wildcat.

He's the leader again this year and opens spring practice headlining one of the strongest position groups on the team.

8. Jeff Casteel's plan for coaching a battered defense

The defensive coordinator didn't have a lot of depth in his first season and will have even less this spring.

Starting cornerbacks Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight are both out this spring with shoulder injuries, as is linebacker Marquis Flowers.

Several others are also out, making things difficult on Casteel, who is trying to form an identity for his group.

9. The cornerbacks who take advantage of MCKnight and Richardson being out

With McKnight and Richardson out, look for Derrick Rainey to try to make the best of the situation.

Rainey, who started a pair of games last year as a junior, had 46 tackles and will run with the defense's top unit this spring.

10. Rich Rod's comfort level

Rodriguez said earlier this week that everyone on his staff feels more comfortable entering Year 2.

The head man said he's refreshed from 2012 and eager to have a good spring.

Spring practice will give Rodriguez a good idea of where his 2013 squad stands.

11. The local leaders on defense

It's always fun to watch former Ironwood Ridge High's Jake Fischer and ex-Canyon del Oro High's Jared Tevis do their thing.

Fischer and Tevis are two of the starting defensive players who aren't banged up. Both are believed to be healthy and will try to improve on their stellar 2012 seasons.

Fischer led the team with 119 tackles and Tevis had 82 in 11 games.

12. The impact the new coaches will have

Charlie Ragle, who was promoted from an operations role to an on-field one, will coach the tight ends and serve as the special teams coordinator.

Jim Michalczik will be in his first spring as offensive line coach; the same goes for safeties coach Matt Caponi. The trio will get their chance to make a first impression on the field with their players.

13. The punting game

The Wildcats officially just have one punter, Drew Riggleman from Sahuaro High School, on their roster.

Bret Miller, currently a high school senior, is expected to get a shot at the role when he arrives in the summer. But right now, Riggleman gets his chance to shine.

Arizona Wildcats spring practice by the numbers

14

Total practices, including the April 13 spring game

11

Players that will be sidelined this spring with injuries

4,126

Total yards of offense in 2012 by Matt Scott that the Wildcats must replace

120

Career starts by returning offensive players

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at dberk@azstarnet.com or 573-4330. On twitter @DSBerk

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