The Arizona Wildcats were midway through Period 1 of the first practice of the Rich Rodriguez era when the smell hit.

Mesquite smoke, surely the result of a nearby barbecue, brought to mind tailgates and 1,000 tri-tips, burgers and brats.

Football was in the air Thursday, even though the surroundings felt funny.

The Arizona Wildcats held their first training camp practice at Kindall/Sancet Stadium, the former home of the UA's baseball team and the new test lab for a speed-centered football program. Grounds crews sodded over the infield, leveled the pitchers' mounds and re-lined the grass, giving Arizona's team nearly two full fields on which to operate. Portable field goal posts loomed just over the visitor's dugout and at the right field fence.

The facility practically screams football, except for the retired numbers that still hang beyond the warning track.

"With the infield covered, it doesn't even feel that way - except that all the logos are baseball (ones)," Rodriguez said. "We haven't gotten our football ones up yet."

Said quarterback Matt Scott: "I kinda like it. The grass is soft, and there's a nice surrounding area. It's nice."

The new (albeit temporary) practice facility is the first step toward what Rodriguez hopes will be a cultural shift. The Wildcats finished 4-8 a year ago, a dismal performance that cost coach Mike Stoops his job and bred fan apathy toward the only original Pac-10 program that has yet to play in a Rose Bowl.

Rodriguez was hired November 22 with promises of bringing some much-needed energy to a program that had gone stale. The Wildcats will run his spread-option offense and 3-3-5 "odd stack" defense, both speed-first schemes that require top-notch conditioning.

They'll even practice fast.

Players worked out Thursday surrounded by giant speakers pumping motivational music, two solar-powered play clocks and a hand-operated scoreboard. They sprinted to and from drills, using mostly hand-signals to communicate. Practice ended with a conditioning test designed to identify which players took their summer work seriously.

Running back Ka'Deem Carey said the test was simple: "Run laps until you get tired." He passed after running five.

There were a "handful" who failed, Rodriguez said; they will join him in the weight room this morning.

"I'll have a few workout partners," he said with a smile.

Though the scene Thursday was chaotic at times - it was, after all, everybody's first day - Rodriguez is hoping that practicing "fast" will lead to Saturday successes.

But there's a catch.

The Wildcats open camp thin on the offensive line, at quarterback and at linebacker. A half-dozen key contributors are returning after missing parts or all of the 2011 season with injuries.

The team can't afford more attrition, but isn't talented enough to practice at half-speed. The first challenge of the Rodriguez era will be to teach a new philosophy without any collateral damage.

"We have to make practice physical so we can get tougher, but we can't beat ourselves up at practice," he said. "We won't (practice physical) every day, so when we do have those physical practices, we really need to get after it. It needs to be really intense."

Thursday was a good start. Though the Wildcats struggled with some of the basics, their enthusiasm - and endurance - was enough to cover their mistakes. The team's conditioning was a "night and day" difference from the first day of spring drills, Rodriguez said, and a sign that many of his players took voluntary workouts seriously.

Scott, a fifth-year senior, admitted to being "a little rusty" on the first day.

On the unofficial start of football season, he is forgiven.

"Obviously, I don't think it's where Coach RichRod wants it yet, but eventually, it's going to get there," he said. "We're going to keep working hard every day. Hopefully, we can please him."

Arizona's training camp schedule

All practices closed to the public; start times subject to change.

• Today: 6-8 p.m.

• Saturday: 6-8 p.m.

• Monday: 6-8 p.m.

• Tuesday: 6-8 p.m.

• Wednesday: 8-10 a.m.

• Aug. 9 at Fort Huachuca: 7:30-9:30 a.m. and 6:15-8:15 p.m.

• Aug. 10 at Fort Huachuca: 8-10:30 a.m.

• Aug. 11 at Fort Huachuca: 8:30-10:30 a.m. and scrimmage at 5:30 p.m.

• Aug. 12 at Fort Huachuca: Leadership Reaction Course, 8:45-11:45 a.m.

• Aug. 13: 8:15-10:15 a.m.

• Aug: 14: 8:30-10:30 a.m. and 6-8 p.m.

• Aug. 15: 6-8 p.m

• Aug. 16: 8:30-10:30 a.m. and 6-8 p.m.

• Aug. 17: 2:30-4:30 p.m.

• Aug: 18: 6:30-8:30 p.m.

• Aug. 19: Meet the Team Day in McKale Center, time TBA

• Aug. 20: First day of classes, regular-season practices begin