Having endured his first monsoon-interrupted practice — welcome to Tucson! — first-year Arizona Wildcats coach Kevin Sumlin looked forward to a time when he won’t have to scrutinize the weather report.
By this time next year, the Indoor Sports Center will be up and running. If rain and lightning strike the way they did Saturday night, practice simply and quickly can be moved inside.
“You guys are used to it; I’m not. … It’s a complete crapshoot when we’re going to practice,” Sumlin said. “The big deal will be the indoor facility. It’ll be nice to have.”
But first things first. Rain or shine, Sumlin has a team to prepare. The Sept. 1 opener against BYU is less than three weeks away.
Sumlin met with reporters for the second time since training camp started and spoke in depth about a variety of pressing personnel issues. Here’s a portion of that conversation, which has been lightly edited for context and clarity:
What have you learned about your team over the past eight days or so?
A: “I think that’s a two-way street. They’ve learned more about us and how we communicate. I think that’s important too. It’s not just us to them — it’s them to us. I think the communication has gotten a lot better.
“Everything we’re asking them to do, they’re doing it. I’m not saying they’re doing it exactly right, but they’re doing it. They’re doing it with effort. As long as we continue to do that … continue to give the effort they’re giving, asking questions, wanting to be a good football team … these guys have been fabulous. That comes with what we’re talking about (with) communication and trust. That’s been the biggest thing that’s improved.”
What are you seeing out of Khalil Tate?
A: “He’s better than he was (at the end of spring). He’s had numerous opportunities with PRPs (player-run practices) this summer. I think every day that we’re out here, he understands a little bit more of the big picture. This is that time. You don’t have school. Our walk-throughs have been great for him.
“But at that position, the whiteboard, the video, the walk-through is nothing like full speed. Rotations, safeties, where my hot (route) is, how fast that end’s closing. That phase is ongoing. The full-speed piece of it is where we’re working, to get his eyes right.
“Coach Yates (Marcel Yates, Arizona’s defensive coordinator) is giving us a bunch of looks, and I think that’s good for our offense and good for him.”
What about the other quarterbacks?
A: “(Saturday’s scrimmage) was important because we can’t give all seven guys those reps for the next three weeks. We’re going to make some decisions (Sunday) based on a lot of different things — based on work up to this week statistically, based on feel, based on video. And decision-making.
“Our whole team has to get better at situational football. (Saturday) was a situational scrimmage, but not as specific as it’s going to get from here on out. The decision-making process for that position becomes extremely important. That weighs into the decision of who’s going to get reps.”
Have any players or positions stuck out consistently over the first eight practices?
A: “The linebackers (Tony Fields II, Colin Schooler). They’re comfortable in the system. They’re competitive but not combative. They’ve been extremely competitive with the offense but haven’t been over the top, where they’re starting fights. They’ll light you up, they’ll let you know about it and they’re having some fun out there. That energy has been contagious. I would say that I expected it, but it’s probably a little better than I thought.”
Do you include Kylan Wilborn in that group? From what we saw in the scrimmage, he looked dominant.
A: “I do. Oh yeah. He’s changed his body a little bit. They’re very active right now, and I want that to continue. That is contagious, not just for the defense but for the whole team.”
Tim Hough and Dylan Klumph have started practicing. How important was it to land grad transfers at those positions, cornerback and punter?
A: “It’s a little bit like free agency. At two positions of need. At corner, here’s a guy who’s got real quick-twitch, who’s played a lot of football, who’s got strength and knows the game, brings experience and want-to and energy.
“You saw the first punt (by Klumph). It just sounds different. Big ol’ smile on my face. It’s like anything else: You don’t really know what you have until you see it. I just told both of them, ‘I’m glad you guys are here.’ They’re going to help us.”
You work closest with the tight ends. What have you seen out of those guys?
A: “The guys have been great. I think Bryce (Wolma) is very versatile. He’s 250 (pounds) right now, so he can play in line and flex out. Jamie (Nunley) is a little bit lighter (231), more of a flex guy. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the freshman (Jake Peters). He can catch it. He’s a little bit bigger than you think (6-4, 222). I don’t know if he’s going to figure into every down; he may sometime in the year. But he’s got the frame and the body to help us on special teams if it comes to that.”
Do any other newcomers seem more ready than others?
A: “It’s hard to say. There’s guys out there (Dayven Coleman, Christian Young) that may be caught behind some other people, particularly at safety, but have the body to play special teams and do some things. That’s what we’re going to have to sit down and figure out. Are we gonna redshirt this guy? There’s no doubt that you get better by playing, particularly the further you get away from the football.
“We’ve gotta be smart with that. We’re probably going to have to have some depth at corner with some young guys (Azizi Hearn, McKenzie Barnes). With Tim (Hough) being here, that really helps that situation.”
Scottie Young Jr. has been reinstated. Is he basically starting from scratch with your staff?
A: “Sure. We don’t have a relationship with him. He’s been suspended since we’ve been here. It’s basically where it is with him.”