Charlie Ragle has been the UA’s special teams coach only for two years, but he knows the drill: With fall camp comes questions about place-kickers.
It’s a yearly tradition that Arizona fans could do without.
- Jake Smith converted just 63 percent of his field goals last season, which ranked 95th in the country.
- The last time Arizona kickers converted more than 80 percent of their field goals in a season was 2008, when Jason Bondzio went 14 for 16.
- Over the last six seasons, UA kickers have a field goal conversion rate of 71 percent. Last year alone, 67 kickers in the country had a better percentage than that.
So are things going to be better this year?
Despite the loss of Smith and an open competition at the position, Ragle thinks so.
“I think we’re going to see an upgrade there, regardless of who it is,” Ragle said. “I think we’re going to be better in the kicking game. Right now there’s no one standing out, but I’ll tell you by the time we finish and go into UNLV, we should be pretty good and pretty excited about our kicking game.”
Smith handled all the kicking duties for the Wildcats last year. He attempted all 19 field goals for the UA and handled every one of the 83 kickoffs.
This year, Ragle and the Wildcats may spread the duties out over multiple kickers. The three main candidates right now are junior Casey Skowron, freshman Josh Pollack and Virginia Tech graduate transfer Ethan Keyserling.
“You could easily see where we could have a short guy, who is pretty accurate from 40 in, and a longer guy that might have a bigger leg and could handle kickoffs,” Ragle said. “Whatever gives us the best chance to win, we’re going to try to find that.
“I can see something like that developing for sure.”
Skowron may be the most consistent of the group, but has battled various minor injuries the past two years, which have slowed his development.
Ragle said Keyserling, perhaps the leading candidate for kickoff duty, may have the strongest leg of all the kickers but needs to be more consistent.
Pollack, a true freshman, is still learning to trust his leg and not overthink things — something Ragle said most freshmen deal with.
“I’ve told Josh, ‘You’ve worked on this for so long and you’re naturally good at it. Just do your thing,’ ” Ragle said. “I’m excited for Casey. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be in this thing for sure. Ethan has a super strong leg. He might have the strongest leg overall. He’s going to be in the mix.”
Running back update
Junior running back Jared Baker is 100 percent healthy and right in the middle of the running back competition, less than nine months after tearing his ACL against Arizona State.
Coach Rich Rodriguez said Baker, listed at 5 feet 8 inches and 188 pounds, is still one of the fastest players on the team despite the injury.
The coach said he wasn’t surprised with Baker’s quick recovery time and full recovery.
“I really kinda expected it,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously our training staff does a great job, and he was ahead of schedule during his whole rehab. They were patient with it during summer running, so he’s full-go.
“He did a great job working hard, and I think our medical staff deserves a lot of credit, too.”
Rodriguez has also been impressed with freshmen Nick Wilson, Jonathan Haden and redshirt Zach Green early in camp.
The coach would like to pare down the competition in the next week or so, but it won’t be a one-man job like it was last year with Ka’Deem Carey.
“Ka’Deem was one of the best in the country, and he was durable,” Rodriguez said. “You saw him carry it 48 times. It’s very rare that you get a guy that runs that hard and does it every time he carries the ball. That’s why he was special.”
Searching for pass rushers
Rodriguez has said several times that the Wildcats lack a “freak” pass rusher to get around the edge and harass opposing quarterbacks.
It’ll be a group effort this season.
The Wildcats will try several different defensive players in the third-down pass-rushing role. LSU transfer Jordan Allen will certainly get a shot at it as will linebacker Derrick Turituri, who saw some action there last year.
The coach held informal tryouts for the position during Friday’s practice.
He said he thinks Turituri is making positive strides.
“He’s a good pass rusher because he’s such a powerful guy,” Rodriguez said. “He bench-presses well over 400 pounds and he squats half the building.”