Wearing a red, short-sleeved pullover, red shorts and a white visor, Kevin Sumlin moved from drill to drill at Kindall-Sancet Field on Monday. Although the surroundings were new to him, he was back in familiar territory.
“In the beginning, it was a lot of this and not a lot of that,” the first-year Arizona Wildcats coach said after his first practice of spring — “this” being talking, “that” being coaching.
“Now there’s a lot more of that. That’s why I’m here. To be on the grass. That’s always a good thing.”
The Wildcats practiced for almost two hours under the watchful eye of Sumlin and his mostly new staff. He stressed afterward that they’re just getting started. His message to the players: “You’ve got a clean slate.”
Sumlin’s main goal over 15 spring practices is to evaluate the roster he inherited from Rich Rodriguez, whom Arizona fired on Jan. 2. Sumlin did not watch much film from last year because he wants to form his own judgments.
“That’s what the evaluation process is for, so I’m not swayed by what I’ve seen on tape — this guy can play, this guy can’t play,” Sumlin said. “For some of you, that’s awful news because you think you’ve arrived. And for some of you, this is great news, because I don’t know what you can do.”
Sumlin said he hoped to have an idea of what Arizona’s starting lineup would look like by the end of spring drills, which conclude with the April 14 spring game. He said he would release a depth chart by the end of spring but that it “doesn’t really mean anything.” In other words, the evaluation process will continue into summer and fall.
Asked if he had a better feel for the team after being on the job for a little over two months, Sumlin said: “I don’t think we’ve had any time to evaluate the roster. I’ve had an hour and a half today. We still haven’t done anything. I haven’t seen these guys play live, on the field. It’s really the beginning of it.”
Barring something unforeseen, Sumlin has a clear starting quarterback in Khalil Tate. Tate was one of four quarterbacks working with new position coach Noel Mazzone on Monday. Tate is the only one with any substantial college experience.
Sumlin said the group played “OK.” The offense, in general, is a bit behind the defense, which retained coordinator Marcel Yates.
The offense is learning a new scheme and will install a quarter of the playbook over each of the next four weeks.
Still, Sumlin and his staff threw a lot of stuff at that side of the ball Monday, including line calls and blitzes.
“It was happening fast,” Sumlin said. “We want that to happen so guys get a sense of urgency. We’re going to have to block that or handle it. The more we get to see it, the more practice we’ll get.”
The Wildcats worked in shorts and helmets Monday and will wear the same garb Tuesday. Sumlin said they will practice in full pads for the first time Thursday.
- After stretching, the Wildcats spent the first 10 minutes of practice working on special teams. Several coaches were involved, including Sumlin.
- One thing that hasn’t changed: an emphasis on tempo. Coaches could be heard imploring offensive players to “hurry” while getting lined up during the walk-through portion of practice.
- Something that’s different: running backs flaring into the flat to catch swing passes. Backs rarely were involved in the passing game over the past few seasons.
- The quarterbacks spent extensive time working on footwork, including stepping over mini-hurdles. Mazzone, who’s also Arizona’s offensive coordinator, took a hands-on approach to that drill and others.
- Sophomore Gary Brightwell, who moved from running back to slot receiver as a freshman, worked with the backs during the half-hour portion of practice open to the media.
- Redshirt sophomore Bryson Cain, who missed last season because of a broken ankle, lined up with the first-team offensive line at right guard during the walk-through portion of practice. The other “starters” were, from left to right, Layth Friekh, Michael Eletise, Nathan Eldridge and Cody Creason.
- Tshiyombu Lukusa, a transfer from Michigan State, worked at left tackle during the walk-through portion. He could be a candidate to start there the first two games, which Friekh must sit out as part of his deal with the NCAA to get a fifth year of eligibility.
- Some players couldn’t participate, had to leave early or arrived late because of class conflicts. Safety Jarrius Wallace left just as practice was getting underway.
- Long snapper Nick Reinhardt, who missed most of last season because of a knee injury, participate in the early part of practice without a brace.
- Former UA tackle Gerhard de Beer, who’s preparing for the NFL draft, attended practice. His 35 bench-press reps at Arizona’s pro day would have tied for second among offensive linemen at this year’s scouting combine. His time of 7.44 seconds in the three-cone drill would have ranked fifth.
- As of now, there will be no further availability for Sumlin, assistant coaches or players until the spring game. Only Sumlin spoke after practice Monday.