The Arizona Wildcats have been practicing for two weeks, and this much is certain: The coaches play favorites.

Not with players, of course. With drills.

Each of the UA assistants has a favorite way to test players during training camp, whether it's an all-inclusive passing practice, a head-to-head special teams showdown or a footwork drill that looks like something out of "Dancing With the Stars."

The Star talked to three assistants about their favorite drills, where they came from and what they reveal:

David Nichol, outside receivers coach

The drill: Team pass

What it is: An all-inclusive exercise designed to give all quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers "reps" during individual drills. The Wildcats' five quarterbacks stand next to each other on the line of scrimmage; on cue, each throws a pass to a different player running a separate route. The Wildcats typically line up three wide receivers to the right of the quarterbacks and one to the left; a tailback runs a route out of the backfield.

History: Nichol first learned the drill in 2000, when he served as a student assistant for Mike Leach at Texas Tech.

"Ten guys are getting a rep on one play," Nichol said. "That's always been a part of what we do. From the first day I ever thought about coaching, it was that drill."

What it shows: Newcomers who are ready for more playing time. The beauty of the team-pass drill, Nichol said, is that every player participates - even those newcomers who might never see the field in a game.

"A freshman who might not get out there in 7-on-7s or team (drills), he gets a chance to make his reads, run his routes and make his throws during that period," he said.

Greg Brown, co-defensive coordinator/secondary coach

The drill: Bail for 10

What it is: Brown, the UA's newest defensive coach, said he comes up with drills on the fly to keep his players sharp. In this drill, the cornerbacks and safeties must bail - or run backward - for 10 yards, cross over, and dash at a 45-degree angle. Brown doesn't name his drills; we came up with it.

History: None. Brown, who was hired in January, spent 19 years with the NFL's Chargers, 49ers, Falcons and Saints, and at the University of Colorado. He improvised at each spot. "The key is to give them a lot of instructions, a lot of turns - tell them, 'Turn your back, flip around, etc. …' - and see if they can follow it precisely."

What it shows: Which players have body control and can follow directions. The on-the-fly drills replicate game action, which can often be unpredictable; those who adjust the best typically do better on Saturdays. "You're looking for guys who can go from Point A to Point B, even when you throw a monkey wrench in there," Brown said.

Jeff Hammerschmidt, special teams and defensive ends coach

The drill: Lions vs. Gazelles

What it is: A kickoff-coverage and return drill held a few times a week during practice. Players cue up in lines. The coverage man must sprint down the field, beat a blocker, and dive at an orange cone representing the kick-returner. "It's kind of mano-a-mano," Hammerschmidt said. "It's part of our 'Star Search.' "

History: Hammerschmidt said Lions vs. Gazelles is "an Arizona deal." He learned the drill as a UA player in the 1980s. Former Wildcats assistant John Baxter - now the associate head coach at USC - first devised the idea and the name.

What it shows: Who has the heart, and the hustle, to play special teams. Former special-teamer Orlando Vargas and current standout Tito Foster made names for themselves as "lions" in practice. "It's one of those drills where you can find tough guys, and guys that can use their speed," Hammerschmidt said. "The guys who dance too much, you kick 'em out of the drill."


Adam Hall returned an interception for a touchdown, sparking the Arizona Wildcats defense to a solid showing in Wednesday night's scrimmage.

The UA ran about 40 plays during the half-hour workout at the Jimenez Practice Facility. The defense made three stops, and the offense scored two touchdowns and converted a pair of field goals.

The defensive performance was a clear upgrade from Saturday, when the UA allowed 455 yards of offense in a scrimmage at Sierra Vista Buena High School.

"We still have some things we have to work on, obviously, but we're starting to pick things up," sophomore linebacker Jake Fischer said. "The intensity was at a high today. We did a good job of making those key stops. We're looking a lot faster."

Greg Nwoko, playing with the second team, scored the first touchdown on a 1-yard plunge. Nick Foles connected with freshman wide receiver Tyler Slavin on a 5-yard touchdown for the UA's second score.

Hall, a safety/nickel back, provided the day's biggest highlight when he intercepted Adam Scott and returned the ball 60 yards for a defensive score.

"I thought the defense played really well today. They came out, were flying around, and had a big day," Foles said.

The Wildcats will hold their fourth and final scrimmage of training camp on Saturday at Arizona Stadium. The annual "Meet the Team" night starts at 6.

Ryan Finley