Rich Rodriguez - likely on purpose - hasn't been heavy on the compliments this spring. Whether it's talking about his team's needs to get in better shape or execute the fundamentals better, Rodriguez has generally been tough on his squad over the past month.

But every once in a while, the second-year coach praises one of his players.

Safety Wayne Capers Jr. earned that honor last week. As the coach talked about Capers after a practice, he finished with some big-time kudos and ultimately what every player wants when they pick a college.

"As he grows into his role, I think he can have a very good career here," Rodriguez said. "He's a good athlete and he has some experience so I'm expecting him to improve quite a bit."

Rodriguez's feeling is for good reason. The last time he saw Capers in a game, the Pittsburgh native impressed.

Capers was forced into duty in the New Mexico Bowl because normal starter Tra'Mayne Bondurant was out for the game with an injury. Making his first career college start at the "spur" position, Capers came up with seven tackles - one for a loss - and also forced a fumble.

"That was something I'll remember for a long time," Capers said. "It was a great experience. My teammates helped me out - helped me adapt to the speed that I wasn't used to the whole year."

As a true freshman, Capers was forced into action because of the team's lack of depth on defense. He played in 11 games and, for the first 10, was predominantly a special teams player. He broke up one pass against Oregon State, but you get the point.

Then the New Mexico Bowl came and Capers got his chance. For Bondurant's part, the junior-to-be was determined on helping his backup thrive in the finale.

"Every time I came to the sidelines, he had something to tell me," Capers said. "He told me what I was doing wrong and (wanted to) make sure I didn't do it again. He was making sure I was helping the team instead of hurting it."

"I've learned a lot from him. He's been a big bro to me … since I'm so far away from home I don't have anyone else watching me."

Bondurant is healthy now, and for all intents and purposes, the two are back to competing.

Capers, listed at 6-feet-1-inch, 201 pounds, still has a long way to go in his development and as he pointed out recently is still just in his second semester at college and is adjusting to life thousands of miles away from home. He also battled an intestinal problem during the first semester and is now going through his first spring practice.

"It's something new," Capers said. "There's a lot to deal with, but I'm hanging in for the most part. It's just a lot of learning hipwork, footwork and gauging routes for the first time."

Making Capers' debut as a true freshman and his strong performance in the New Mexico Bowl even more impressive is the fact that he was a high school quarterback and linebacker in high school

He accounted for 1,374 yards of total offense as a quarterback at Chartiers Valley High School in Pennsylvania and didn't play any safety.

"Sometimes it affects me because I'm used to looking for the ball instead of keeping my eye on the man," Capers said. "So that's something I had to adjust to."

Rodriguez and company seem to be impressed with Capers' adjustment.

"He didn't have a whole lot of experience playing anything," Rodriguez said. "He was raw. He was an athlete and a basketball player. Frankly, we needed guys, we needed guys at the safety position and he's got a natural athletic ability."

Spring Game

• When: 1 p.m. Saturday

• Where: Kindall/Sancet Stadium

• Admission: Free • TV: Pac-12 Arizona

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