HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Football offseasons are supposed to be busy. They’re normally filled with drama, coaching changes, a freak spring injury and even an off-field incident or two.
The Arizona Wildcats’ past six-plus months have been downright boring.
Coach Rich Rodriguez, receiver Austin Hill and safety Jared Tevis will arrive at Paramount Studios this morning for their turn at Pac-12 media days to find that not much has changed since that AdvoCare V100 Bowl win over Boston College on New Year’s Eve.
There wasn’t one move on Rodriguez’s coaching staff. A few players left the program on their own — most notably Derek Babiash and Garic Wharton — but Rodriguez didn’t have to dismiss any players, and the Wildcats got through spring drills with no issues or injuries. It’s a far cry from a year ago, when star Ka’Deem Carey had multiple off-field run-ins, three position coaches left for other schools, the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility was under construction, Hill tore his ACL in the spring and Rodriguez’s starting middle linebacker decided to join a prestigious lawsuit against the NCAA.
When Rodriguez arrived in Southern California last July, there was plenty to ask him about.
This year, things will undoubtedly be calmer. And for a head coach of a major program, that’s not a bad thing.
Just because it has been quiet doesn’t mean there’s not still plenty of intrigue with Rodriguez’s crew.
Here are three things we’ll be asking about today:
1. The freshmen. There’s always some suspense surrounding the incoming freshman class. This year is no different. The headliner of this year’s group has always been Salpointe Catholic standout Cameron Denson. He was a force on both sides of the ball for the Lancers, but was recruited to Arizona as a receiver.
Rodriguez said on signing day that Denson would likely start his career on offense and play some cornerback on third downs.
That plan has changed.
Look for Denson to be listed solely as a cornerback when Arizona reveals its roster today. He could still play wide receiver at some point, but it appears Denson will open his career as a defensive back.
He’s more likely to have an immediate impact there with Arizona desperately thin at cornerback.
There should be some news with the rest of the group as well. It’s likely tight end Darrell Cloy and defensive backs Devon Brewer and Jace Whittaker won’t be listed on the roster. Cloy and Brewer, a pair of non-qualifiers, will likely head to Milford Academy in New York and could enroll at Arizona in January like T.J. Johnson did last year.
Whittaker suffered a knee injury and will rehab on his own. He could enroll in January.
Cloy, Brewer and Whittaker were all rated as three-star recruits by the recruiting service Scout.com.
2. The quarterbacks. The one thing today’s media session will have in common with last year is the signal-callers. Rodriguez wouldn’t tip his hand at all last year.
Don’t expect him to be any more open this time around. There still appears to be an open competition between Jesse Scroggins, Jerrard Randall, Connor Brewer and Anu Solomon. Rodriguez puts a lot of value into how his quarterbacks perform in the summer and if they took the time to go out of their way to be leaders and put extra work in.
That didn’t feel happen last year, and the Wildcats were noticeably rusty during their first few practices.
A new NCAA rule is allowing quarterbacks to spend limited time with coaches in the film room during the offseason, and their performances there could sway Rodriguez. So which quarterbacks made the most of that opportunity? Did any improve their stock dramatically this summer? Who worked the best with the receivers? Rodriguez will likely be coy in his responses, but we’ll learn what we can.
It will also be interesting to see what Rodriguez says about incoming freshman Brandon Dawkins. After spending the majority of the summer in Tucson, can he join the competition right away or will he have to wait a year like Solomon?
3. The defense. The biggest question mark surrounding the defense this preseason is leadership. Linebacker Jake Fischer was the clear captain of the defense the past two seasons, and defensive linemen Sione Tuihalamaka and Tevin Hood provided their fair share of leadership.
So where does that fall this year? Tevis, today’s defensive representative, has plenty of experience but could end up battling Will Parks for playing time during fall camp.
Free safety Jourdon Grandon showed off some newfound leadership skills in the spring that excited the coaching staff, and he could be one of the leading men on defense. Defensive end Reggie Gilbert has started 21 games in his career, including all 13 last year, and will be a vocal leader.
Whether the defense continues the improvement it started to show last year remains to be seen. Rodriguez has talked endlessly about developing more depth and overall talent on defense.
Is that happening? We’ll see what the coach says.
- UA offensive graduate assistant Sean Patterson has taken a full-time job as a quality control coach at LSU. Patterson, the older brother of UA quarterback commit Shea Patterson, joined the UA’s staff in the spring. Shea, a member of th
- e 2016 class, is rated as a five-star recruit and was recently offered a scholarship by LSU. He remains committed to the UA, but that could change in the coming days.