UA FOOTBALL

Arizona football: Cats' mantra: Think team first, then roar

2012-08-06T00:00:00Z 2012-08-06T11:58:30Z Arizona football: Cats' mantra: Think team first, then roarRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 06, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Asked to discuss one of the more subtle - and potentially sensitive - points of his first training camp as the Arizona Wildcats' coach, Rich Rodriguez recalled a scene from one of his daughter's favorite movies.

In "The Lion King," the quirky but wise Rafiki hits Simba over the head with a stick. Hurt, the lion asks the mandrill monkey why he did it.

Rafiki's response: "It doesn't matter. It's in the past."

Expect Rodriguez to deliver a similar response when the subject of Arizona's previous football teams and schemes come up.

"We have to learn from (the past)," he said, "but we don't need to dwell on it."

In fact, the Wildcats have already distanced themselves - respectfully, of course - from the old way. The team is practicing at a new facility this summer, running new offensive and defensive schemes and focusing on moving forward after a dismal 2011 season.

Here's a look at what is different during the UA's 2012 training camp:

COMPLIMENTS will be chosen carefully. Rodriguez has held off on praising individual players in favor of team-centered generalities, a trend that should continue until the UA opens its season Sept. 1 against Toledo at Arizona Stadium at 7:30 p.m.

While outsiders may see Rodriguez as coy, the truth is more complex. The coach said he "doesn't blame" fans and media for wanting more information about specific players, but he said that every player will have to work together if the UA hopes to improve on a last season's 4-8 mark.

"It's a natural tendency for fans and media to want to know about individuals: I think that's easier to write about, and its probably more interesting than typical coach-speak, talking about the team," he said.

"But this team is coming together a little bit. They understand the sum of all of our parts has to be better than we are individually. We have some good players and good athletes and all that, but we have to be better as a whole in order to have success. I think they understand that."

Wide receiver Dan Bucker said there's a good reason why Rodriguez talks about team.

"Football," he said, "is the ultimate team sport."

PRACTICES are being held at Kindall/Sancet Stadium, the former home of the baseball team. Grounds crews leveled the pitchers' mounds and sodded over the dirt infield, giving the Wildcats nearly two full fields on which to practice. So far, the field has provided a cozy, almost insular place in which to experiment with their spread-option offense and 3-3-5 defense.

Rodriguez, who remains friends with former coach Mike Stoops, has said repeatedly that his way isn't necessarily better than the Wildcats' former philosophy. It's just different.

"I'd rather not get into comparisons. There's a new coaching staff, and it's a different program," he said. "We just do things our way. If we find a better way to do it in the future, we'll change that, too.

ACCESS is more restricted than under Stoops. Training camp is closed to the public; media is allowed to watch the first half-hour and return at the end of practice to conduct interviews. The Wildcats will not hold any public scrimmages this summer, and Arizona Stadium construction has forced the UA to scrap a meet-the-team scrimmage in favor of an Aug. 19 photo and autograph session in McKale Center. The Wildcats will travel to Fort Huachuca this week, but won't hold any open-to-the-public practices or scrimmages.

Stoops' training camps were open to both the public and the media, though - like Rodriguez - the Wildcats' former coach believed in closing all of his regular-season practices. Most programs in the Pac-12 do.

SENIORS will take on a leadership role in Rodriguez's first year. The coach met with his 21 seniors the night before the start of training camp to discuss leadership and what's expected of them.

"He just wanted to reiterate the point that we are a team, and we need to grow from the bottom up," offensive lineman Trace Biskin said. "He does rely on the seniors to take leadership above everything else. He's going to turn to us at certain points, and all the seniors will have a vote."

CAPTAINS won't be decided for a while, and it's possible Rodriguez will employ different captains - likely seniors - for each of the Wildcats' 12 games. The captains-by-committee approach didn't sit well at his former stop, Michigan. At the UA, however, fans and players seem to like the idea.

Still, it would be unwise to think that Rodriguez will do things the same way in Tucson. His own past, just like Arizona's, will serve more as a reference point than a guide.

"I may pick two permanent captains and then pick two others each game," he said. "(But) I haven't decided yet. I still need to explain the honor of being a captain to the kids."

Today

• What: Training camp

• Where: Kindall/Sancet Stadium

• When: 6-8 p.m. (closed to the public)

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