UA fifth-year senior Chris Merrill, center, has made just 10 tackles in his career but is expected to play significant snaps in Saturday's opener.


The Arizona Wildcats spent the first few weeks of spring drills adjusting - to injuries, to inconsistency, to new coaches and ideas, and to wet-behind-the-ears players.

Expect things to get more intense starting today.

The UA will hold its eighth practice of the spring at 6 a.m. today at Salpointe Catholic High School. Over the final two weeks of spring drills, the Wildcats will try to find starters at a half-dozen defensive positions, solidify positions at wide receiver and on the offensive line, and tighten a special-teams unit that was spotty at times a year ago.

Here's where Arizona stands so far - and what the Wildcats will work on leading to the April 10 spring game:

Offensive MVP: Nick Foles. Sure, the Arizona Wildcats' starting quarterback has some footwork issues. And yes, he has played most of the last two weeks with a sprained right ankle. But nobody has taken a bigger step forward in the spring than Foles, the UA's unexpected offensive star last season.

Foles completed 15 of 16 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's scrimmage, the Wildcats' first of the spring. Backup Matt Scott threw for 72 yards and a touchdown, and third-stringer Bryson Beirne connected on 8 of 9 attempts for 91 yards.

"Nick has pretty much played flawlessly for most of the spring. Matt shows continued improvement, and Bryson as well," UA coach Mike Stoops said. "We have some playmakers. We're going to hopefully get some big yards in chunks."

Defensive MVP: Ricky Elmore. The Wildcats' starting defensive end had a breakthrough season in 2009, racking up 44 tackles and 10 1/2 sacks while filling the void left by Brooks Reed's injury. He has kept it up this spring.

"I just want to come out here and do things better than I did last year," he said. "I'm working on being an all-around player."

MVPs (most valuable positions): The offensive line. The Wildcats' "big uglies" have been beautiful so far, even though guard Vaughn Dotsy is out indefinitely after back surgery. Adam Grant has adjusted well to left tackle, and Phillip Garcia has done a good job of anchoring the right side. All-conference center Colin Baxter might be the Wildcats' best all-around player.

Biggest adjustment: Arizona's new-look defense. The Wildcats lost seven starters from last year's team, making spring drills essential to not only finding the right starters but getting them to jell.

The biggest area for concern is at linebacker, where the Wildcats will replace Xavier Kelley, Vuna Tuihalamaka and Sterling Lewis with a group of newcomers. Freshmen Jake Fischer and Trevor Erno have looked good in camp.

Biggest surprise: Gino Crump. The West Virginia transfer caught four passes for a team-high 88 yards in last weekend's scrimmage.

Biggest disappointment: Arizona Stadium's turf. The Wildcats will practice today and tomorrow at Salpointe while UA groundskeepers patch up the stadium's dry, cracked field.

The Jimenez Practice Facility is under construction until this summer, which means the UA has two choices this spring: 6 a.m. practices at Salpointe or dust in the stadium.

Biggest reason to believe: Dan Buckner. The University of Texas transfer won't be able to play until 2011, but he's been impressive in practices. A 6-foot-4-inch, 208-pounder, Buckner is bigger and stronger than any of the other Wildcat wide receivers.

Up next

• What: UA spring game

• When: April 10, 1:30 p.m.

• Where: Arizona Stadium

• Admission: Free