If it was any player other than receiver Nate Phillips, Tony Dews might have been worried.
Coming back from offseason shoulder surgery and missing all of spring drills is no easy task.
But Dews, Arizona’s receivers coach, knew he had nothing to worry about with the sophomore from Chandler as Arizona opened fall camp last weekend.
“He’s his old self,” Dews said. “If anything, he looks like he’s gotten a little quicker. He’s gotten his size back this summer that he lost in the spring from not doing upper body stuff.
“He’s ready to roll.”
Phillips was named freshman All-America by the Football Writers Association of America last season and hauled in 51 catches for 696 yards and seven touchdowns.
His finest performance came in the season finale, when he had nine catches for 193 in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, and set a school record for most receiving yards in a game by a freshman.
The dependable slot receiver played in all 13 games — starting 10 — and served as a kick and punt returner at times. But the wear and tear wore on the 5-foot-7-inch, 180-pound Phillips.
He had his shoulder cleaned out after the season after taking so many hits during his first season of college football.
“It was definitely different because I haven’t had an injury like that before that kept me out of any practice or anything like that,” Phillips said. “I took the time to work with the younger guys that came in and work on my shoulder to play this year.”
Now that he’s fully cleared to play, Phillips wants to build on his promising freshman season. It would stand to reason that Phillips, who only had two Division I offers out of Chandler Basha High School, might have a tougher time this season.
When opponents played Arizona early in the season, few knew who Phillips was, and he was able to exploit that.
This year, teams will undoubtedly be prepared for Phillips and game-plan for him.
For what it’s worth, he isn’t worried about that because of Arizona’s depth at receiver. With Austin Hill back and Cayleb Jones and DaVonte Neal eligible after sitting out last season, Phillips thinks it will be hard for opponents to key on any one UA receiver.
“You have other people they might have their questions about, so they might be worried about those guys more than me or worried about me more than the other guys,” Phillips said. “So I think there will be some opportunity there for everyone.”
Another reason Phillips isn’t sweating the inevitable extra attention is because he thinks he’s better, despite missing the spring. Dews wanted Phillips and his classmate, Samajie Grant, to refine their fundamentals and route-running this offseason. Phillips, who is inseparable from Grant, said that was the duo’s focus all summer.
“They’re continuing to get better,” Dews said of Phillips and Grant. “They are on course. They haven’t missed a beat. They look every bit as sharp as when the season ended. I think they’ve improved. They look more crisp than last year.”
It likely doesn’t mean much, but Phillips has been running with the second team so far in camp along with David Richards, Cayleb Jones and T.J. Johnson. Coach Rich Rodriguez has cautioned several times that the order means nothing this early in camp and could change at any moment.
It might change today based on what Rodriguez saw Monday at practice.
The coach was — let’s say — displeased with the group.
“I thought the wideouts were below average,” Rodriguez said. “So whoever anointed them as one of the best crews in the (country); I haven’t seen it.”
Tra’Mayne Bondurant was at practice for the second straight day. Like Sunday, the safety walked the stairs at Kindall/Sancet Stadium with a weight vest on while the UA practiced. On the field, junior Will Parks has been occupying Bondurant’s spot.
- Arizona has had several players work on punt returns so far in camp, including freshmen Cam Denson and Kaelin DeBoskie. Neal, Phillips, Grant, Jonathan McKnight, Johnny Jackson and T.J. Johnson have all been taking reps there as well. Neal and Denson seem like the main candidates at this point.
- Rodriguez said after practice that sophomore nose tackle Dwight Melvin is sidelined with a concussion. Melvin has missed the last two days after practicing Saturday. The coach wasn’t sure when he would return.
Jeff Worthy has been getting most of the work at that position through the first three days.