When Rich Rodriguez met with reporters last this week, he didn’t exactly provide a lot of specifics on what he’s expecting when his team opens spring drills Monday.
Who will replace Ka’Deem Carey at running back?
“It’s wide open,” Rodriguez said.
Which of the junior college transfers can make the biggest impact this spring?
“I hope all of them can,” the coach responded.
And what about the quarterbacks?
“We have a lot of guys there that can be in the mix,” he answered.
Rodriguez didn’t give much away.
Here are our best guesses to those questions and a few more, with the Wildcats set to get things going Monday afternoon at Kindall/Sancet Stadium.
1. Who will emerge as the starting quarterback?
There isn’t a bigger question entering the spring than this one. Don’t expect Rodriguez to name a starter after the spring game, but we’ll certainly have a better idea then than we do now.Connor Brewer, Anu Solomon, Jerrard Randall, Jesse Scroggins and even Nick Isham will get a look. Expect Brewer and Solomon to get the most work with the first team.
2. Who will take over for Carey at running back?
Nothing will be harder for the Wildcats in 2014 than replacing the two-time All-American in the backfield. Nick Wilson, a four-star running back from Fresno, Calif., won’t get here until the fall. Zach Green, Pierre Cormier and Jonathan Haden will compete for touches during spring drills. Green and Cormier both redshirted last year. Haden, a true freshman, arrived on campus in January. Jared Baker will also eventually be in the mix, but he’ll miss the spring after tearing his ACL against Arizona State last season.
3. Which redshirts can make an impact?
Green and Cormier are certainly candidates. If it weren’t for Carey and senior Daniel Jenkins, both likely would have challenged for immediate playing time as freshmen. Defensive lineman Luca Bruno would have played right away, but was forced to sit after an issue with the NCAA Clearinghouse. He should make an impact this spring. Free safety David Price is also an intriguing athlete with impressive size.
4. How much can the mid-year enrollees help?
A lot, especially on defense. Linebacker Antonio Smothers, a junior college transfer, could step in for Marquis Flowers at one of the outside spots. Another junior college product, defensive lineman Jeff Worthy, will get a look at all three spots on the line. Cornerback Patrick Glover, a teammate of Smothers at Scottsdale Community College, will also get a shot at playing time. Offensively, T.J. Johnson, who was a part of the UA’s 2013 recruiting class and then didn’t qualify academically, is on the roster after a semester at prep school. Rodriguez said this week he’s the fastest player on the team “by a couple of steps.”
5. Where will the speed come from?
Johnson seems to be one of the main candidates. Rodriguez hinted this week that he’ll try to find creative ways to get Johnson and senior Garic Wharton the ball and utilize their speed. If Johnson is the fastest player on the roster, Wharton may be No. 2. With no Carey this year, Rodriguez will look to get his fastest players the ball more in space. Notre Dame transfer DaVonte Neal also possesses plenty of speed.
6. Will the defense keep improving?
It should. Jeff Casteel’s defense continues to get physically bigger and develop more depth. Safety may be Arizona’s deepest position on either side of the ball. All three starters from last season — Tra’Mayne Bondurant, Jourdon Grandon and Jared Tevis — return, as does AdvoCare V100 Bowl hero Will Parks. Linebacker Scooby Wright will have the spring to develop; defensive end Reggie Gilbert and cornerback Jonathan McKnight bring experience and leadership.
7. Who will join the four returning starters on the offensive line?
Lene Maiava seems like the smart pick. The Wildcats return both tackles in Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele, and center Steven Gurrola and guard Cayman Bundage are also back after strong seasons. Maiava played all over the line last season as a sophomore and Rodriguez raved about him on more than one occasion. He should slide right into Chris Putton’s right guard spot. Junior college transfer Kaige Lawrence will look to provide some competition this spring.
8. Will the receivers live up to the hype?
Rodriguez thinks so. He said this week that this could be the deepest receivers group he’s ever worked with. Austin Hill is healthy. Neal and Cayleb Jones are eligible after transferring, and Nate Phillips, Samajie Grant, Trey Griffey, David Richards, Johnny Jackson and Wharton are all back. Phillips is expected to miss the spring recovering from shoulder surgery but should be fine come August. It’s a big spring for Neal and Jones, who will move off the scout team and work with the main offense.