There were overthrown balls by the quarterbacks. Receivers dropped passes, and cornerbacks lost their footing while backpedaling in drills.

But none of that really mattered Saturday morning at Kindall/Sancet Stadium.

Football is back - at least for the time being - and the Arizona Wildcats are happy to be on the practice field.

Coach Rich Rodriguez's squad went through its first of 14 spring practices with the sun shining bright and the temperature locked in at a perfect spot.

"I liked the enthusiasm," Rodriguez said. "We had great weather, and the guys were anxious to get out there."

If Rodriguez learned anything Saturday morning after his team's fast-paced workout that went just shy of two hours, it was this: Things definitely ran smoother than they did last year.

The second-year coach remembers having to stop practice midway through the opener last spring when it was time for popsicles. The players had trouble making it to their cold treats.

"Just from a familiarity standpoint, it's night and day," Rodriguez said. "We're not in shape right now, but they understand the routine, and there was a lot less stress than there was last year."

The players agreed. Richard Morrison, who will make the switch from receiver to cornerback this spring, said the team was certainly more prepared for the first practice this time around.

They were eagerly anticipating Rodriguez's frantic pace.

"Last year we felt like we were going through a track meet in the spring," Morrison said. "This year, it's like we know what to expect. Everyone is ready to go and get after it now."

Added receiver Austin Hill: "We weren't used to the speed of practice last year. Practices used to be more laid-back, whereas now 'Coach Rod' really gets into you during practice.

"Now that we're a lot more comfortable, we can get better as a team."

And that was the objective Saturday. Sure, the Wildcats may be more than six months from their 2013 opener and not even three months removed from their New Mexico Bowl win, but the time to officially turn the page is now.

Rodriguez wanted to see good effort and solid fundamentals on Saturday; he got both.

"Some coaches don't think you coach effort because it's assumed," Rodriguez said. "But, we're always coaching effort and certainly fundamentals.

"For me, it's more, 'Are they doing the right things fundamentally, and then effort-wise, are they doing it on every snap?'"

No position group was under more scrutiny Saturday than the quarterbacks. With junior college transfer Jesse Scroggins sidelined as he recovers from foot surgery, B.J. Denker got most of the first-team reps. Denker, who started one game as a junior, said he'll focus on keeping it simple and working hard.

"Since I'm one of the only guys with experience, I could come out and try to do too much. But I don't think that's my style," Denker said. "I try to be the smartest guy on the field and get the ball to our playmakers."

Rodriguez clearly had his eye on Denker and the offense throughout the workout.

"Physically, we want to see that he has the sense of urgency to show that we can win with him," the coach said. "We're going to put a lot of pressure on those guys."

Denker had the luxury of having running back Ka'Deem Carey next to him.

Carey led the nation in rushing last fall but has spent the offseason dealing with legal issues and public missteps. He will practice with the team all spring but is not expected to talk to the media.

The Canyon del Oro High School product is healthy, a plus, but the Wildcats face a major challenge this spring. Several projected starters, including cornerbacks Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight, linebacker Marquis Flowers and Scroggins, are sidelined or limited with injuries.

"This is the most I've ever gone into spring with guys that have had offseason surgeries," Rodriguez said. "It's a little concerning because you want to work on fundamentals, and there are a dozen guys out. As long as they're ready by summer workouts, that's what really matters."

Extra points

• Wide receiver Terrence Miller practiced Saturday, even though he is still waiting to hear whether the NCAA will grant him a medical redshirt for the 2012 season. Rodriguez said he's hopeful Miller will receive another year, allowing him to play this fall.

• Morrison is making the move to cornerback at his request. Rodriguez said Morrison approached the coaches about the move a couple of months back, and they agreed to give it a shot. Morrison suited up at both quarterback and wide receiver in 2012.

Up next

• March 29: Scrimmage, 7 p.m. at Phoenix College

• April 13: Spring game, 1 p.m. at Kindall/ Sancet Stadium

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