Rich Rodriguez has the Arizona Wildcats walking a fine line this spring.

The second-year coach wants to see more ferocity and passion out of his team but also doesn't want any of his players to get hurt.

Rodriguez's squad scrimmaged Saturday for the first time this spring, and that was the message: Play hard and tough, but keep your teammates healthy.

"As a head coach, half the things I worry about is getting through the scrimmage healthy with no injuries," Rodriguez said. "You don't want to limit the guys' aggressiveness and physicalness because we have to be a more aggressive team on both sides, but especially defense.

"If we get through it healthy, I guess it's a good scrimmage."

By Rodriguez's standards then, Saturday went well.

The offense beat the defense 44-40 (the defense was rewarded for stops and turnovers), but the most important part was that the Wildcats came out of it healthy.

Rodriguez also was pleased with several other aspects of the scrimmage.

Quarterback B.J. Denker showed command of the offense and made some plays that caught the coaches' eyes.

He tossed touchdown passes to Garic Wharton and Johnny Jackson and rushed for another score.

"We moved the ball really well and did what we wanted to do," Denker said. "We scored on the first three or four possessions and got rolling."

The quarterback had a good thing going with Jackson. Official statistics weren't kept, but Jackson caught at least 10 balls.

Jackson, a slot receiver, is coming off a redshirt freshman season that saw him catch 25 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown. But an ankle injury slowed his season. The walk-on is using this spring to prove he can be a factor as a sophomore.

"Johnny Jackson is a good football player," Rodriguez said. "He played quite a bit last year before he got hurt. (Saturday) he just happened to be open a lot based on he way the defense was playing the offense."

Jackson wasn't the only underclassman that was impressive Saturday.

Running back Jared Baker played in 11 games last season as a freshman but had only 20 carries as the third option behind Ka'Deem Carey and Daniel Jenkins. With Jenkins gone - he transferred to Washington State as a graduate student - Baker is trying to win the No. 2 job.

His 60-yard touchdown run in Saturday's scrimmage certainly didn't hurt his cause.

"He's a fast guy," Rodriguez said. "Coach (Calvin) Magee has been on him about wanting to cut too much. He's a one-cut-and-go-north guy because he does have so much speed.

"(Friday) he didn't do that and got yelled at. (Saturday), he did and scored a touchdown - amazing how that works out."

Defensively, the Wildcats, who were without several mainstays because of injuries, struggled in the open field, but played strong in the red zone.

"Defensively, we didn't play as well as we had been in other practices," Rodriguez said. "There was some good and some bad, but I'll have to watch the film and get a better evaluation."

There will surely be things to clean up on both sides, but the overall vibe following the scrimmage Saturday was positive.

"It all feels so much better than last year," Baker said. "We feel so much further ahead.

"We know where we have to be and what we have to do."

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk