Most years at most places, the midway point of spring football is a time to separate stars from scrubs, fine-tune schemes and seek solutions.
Not at Arizona. Not now.
Arizona Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez plans to use all of spring to evaluate the players he inherited when he took over the program in November. The process will last through the summer, if not longer.
"We're still in evaluation mode, and will be all the way through the last practice of the spring and the first two weeks of August," Rodriguez said. "Every practice, we get an idea of the guys who are ready to play."
For now, however, we're pretty sure of four things:
1. Matt Scott gets it. The Arizona Wildcats' only scholarship quarterback has all the physical tools to be successful in Rodriguez's spread-option offense. Fortunately, he's also picking up the scheme quickly. In two scrimmages, Scott has completed 28 of 43 passes for 370 yards and four touchdowns. He has yet to turn the ball over.
"I've been pleased with Matt," Rodriguez said. "We've got so much in now that maybe he's getting an information overload, but he's grasping it pretty well."
Defenders are under orders not to hit Scott in drills, and the Wildcats' quarterback has been used sparingly in the run game. He'll become more involved as the season gets closer.
"He's not getting hit at all this spring, but I don't question his toughness," Rodriguez said. "Matt's a tough, competitive guy. If we need to run our quarterback to win a game, we'll run him."
2. Arizona is tackle-poor … Injuries and a suspension have left the Wildcats thin at both offensive tackle positions. Mickey Baucus, who started 12 games a year ago, will miss all of spring after undergoing offseason back surgery.
And Fabbians Ebbele, another starter and arguably the team's best pro prospect, is out indefinitely while he faces assault and trespassing charges stemming from a fight last month.
With the starters out, coaches are practically holding auditions: Jacob Arzouman and Lene Maiava started last week's scrimmage; they were replaced Saturday by Chris Putton and Eric Bender-Ramsay, two converted guards.
Rodriguez said he anticipated the depth issues, even before the surgery and suspension.
"We are really thin at most positions, but that usually happens in a transition year," he said.
3. … and tackling poorly. The Wildcats' defense surrendered 1,074 yards and 16 touchdowns in the first two scrimmages, in part because they're both slow afoot and short-handed.
At least one of those problems will change this summer, when cornerback Jonathan McKnight and defensive tackle Willie Mobley (knee surgeries) are cleared to practice at full-speed. The unit will spend the rest of spring mastering the 3-3-5 "odd stack" defense. Coaches finished installing the scheme last week.
"Now," Rodriguez said, "we have to clean up our execution."
4. Things will improve. Saturday's scrimmage was faster and crisper than the Wildcats' first one, a sloppy affair at Glendale Community College on March 24.
This Wildcats' offense moved the ball, but the defense pushed back with a handful of big plays.
Following the scrimmage, Rodriguez called the performance "a small step."
"Not a big step - a small step," he said. "I think we can make another small step in the last seven practices, and it'll be a productive spring."
REMAINING SPRING SCHEDULE
All practices closed to the public, unless noted
• Today: 3-5 p.m., on campus
• Wednesday: 3-5 p.m., on campus
• Friday: 3-5 p.m., on campus
• Saturday: Scrimmage, time and location TBA
• April 9: 3-5 p.m., on campus
• April 11: 3-5 p.m., on campus
• April 13: 3-5 p.m., on campus
• April 14: Spring game at Kino Stadium, 1 p.m., open to the public