Steppingstone season: Cats look to continue to build a winning program in Year 2

2013-08-03T00:00:00Z 2013-08-03T10:40:58Z Steppingstone season: Cats look to continue to build a winning program in Year 2Daniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Who knows how long it will last, but when the Arizona Wildcats take the field tonight at 6:30 for their first practice of fall camp, they will be on coach Rich Rodriguez's good side.

"I like this team," Rodriguez said at last week's Pac-12 media day. "I like their attitude. I like what's being built at the University of Arizona."

Coming off an 8-5 campaign in his first season, Rodriguez will look to take another step forward this season.

The work to make that happen begins tonight.

Here's the Daily Star's five-by-five preview of the first practice.

Top five newcomers we're most excited to see

1. QB Jesse Scroggins. We didn't get to see much of him in the spring, but the former USC signal-caller will get his chance this fall and has a definite opportunity to win the starting job.

2. QB Anu Solomon. Whether he plays as a true freshman or redshirts, it will be fun to see what Solomon - a proven winner - can bring during fall camp.

3. C Steven Gurrola. The coaches are excited about Gurrola's arrival and the junior college transfer could very well end up being the team's starting center this season.

4. CB Derek Babiash. One of just three four-star recruits in the UA's last class, Babiash picked Arizona over offers from ASU, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Washington and others and could make an instant impact.

5. LB DeAndre Miller. The Buckeye product has good size for a middle linebacker (6-2, 220) and turned down an ASU offer in picking the UA.

Top five healthy players

1. RB Ka'Deem Carey. The nation's leading rusher in 2012, Carey is the key to the UA's offense this season.

2. LB Jake Fischer. The heart and soul of Arizona's defense, Fischer's 119 tackles last season were third most in the Pac-12.

3. S Tra'Mayne Bondurant. Perhaps the biggest playmaker on defense, Bondurant had 11 1/2 tackles for loss last season and two interceptions.

4. OT Mickey Baucus. The starting left tackle for an offense that scored more than 38 points per game last season and produced 526.2 yards per game has to be included on this list.

5. LB Marquis Flowers. A converted safety, Flowers switched positions last season because of necessity and finished with 100 tackles - eighth best in the conference.

Top five under-the-radar players

1. CB Derrick Rainey. The senior from Houston doesn't get talked about a lot, but he's a valuable piece of the secondary and played in all 13 games last season and made 46 tackles.

2. OL Chris Putton. The Glendale native isn't under the coaches' radar, but linemen always seem to blend in. His toughness and versatility is a big plus for the UA.

3. DE Reggie Gilbert. The junior jumped right into the mix as a true freshman in 2011 and started eight games last season, continuing to show improvement.

4. WR Garic Wharton. Both under the radar and extremely important after injuries and departures to the wide receiver position, the junior should see more time this season.

5. K Jake Smith. The Syracuse and Youngstown State transfer missed last season with a torn ACL, but should handle the starting placekicking duties this season.

Top five position battles to watch

1. Quarterback. On the choice for the top spot, will it be B.J. Denker, Scroggins, Solomon or a wild card to start against NAU in the opener?

2. Center. Gurrola will battle it out with Salpointe Catholic product Jacob Arzouman, redshirt freshman Beau Boyster and others to be the man in the middle of UA's line.

3. 'Sam' linebacker. Fischer is locked in at middle linebacker and Flowers is the man at the weakside spot, but the strongside linebacker is up for grabs with Sir Thomas Jackson, Dakota Conwell and others competing for the job.

4. Punter. Sahuaro High School product Drew Riggleman is the only returner on the roster, but should face some competition from freshmen Bret Miller and Jack Flatau.

5. Defensive end. If Dan Pettinato, recovering from a serious knee injury, isn't ready to go at the start of the season, it's anybody's guess who starts opposite Gilbert.

Top five areas of concern

1. Wide receivers. No Austin Hill, Tyler Slavin or Jarrell Bennett, and David Richards is likely to miss some time early in camp.

2. Safeties. There's still enough talent back there, but it's thinner than it was at the end of spring camp with Vince Miles and Patrick Onwuasor no longer on the roster.

3. Defensive line. The front three didn't provide a lot of pressure on the opposing quarterback last season, meaning more work for the back eight.

4. Punter. Until we know who the man is, it's a position of worry to start the season.

5. Quarterback. We know we're being a bit repetitive here, but until there's a starter, there's certainly a little concern.

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

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