The Arizona Wildcats concluded spring practice with a spirited scrimmage Friday night at Arizona Stadium. Here are my top six takeaways (plus some recruiting visitors at bottom):
1. Tate time
By far the biggest storyline was quarterback Khalil Tate’s performance. According to my unofficial stats – I kept a play-by-play because, well, of course I did – Tate completed 16 of 19 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown. It was a significant step forward for the sophomore in his quest to overtake incumbent Brandon Dawkins. Tate has a cannon for an arm, and he throws a nice deep ball. He still has work to do on touch passes in the intermediate range. And, of course, he’s still green when it comes to knowing the playbook and reading defenses. But he can build off this performance and make the QB competition a real battle come August.
2. Context required
Dawkins did not perform as well. I had him completing 12 of 24 passes for 75 yards. But this has to be viewed in the proper context. Tate had No. 1 receiver Shun Brown on his squad; they hooked up for a 65-yard touchdown on the White team’s fourth play from scrimmage. Cam Denson, the presumed No. 2 receiver, did not participate because of a foot injury. Dawkins had J.J. Taylor on Team Blue, but he was used sparingly. By my count, receivers dropped five of Dawkins’ passes. He spent much of the night throwing to walk-ons. Additionally, the White team had a better offensive line, including as many as four possible starters: Michael Eletise, Nathan Eldridge, Jacob Alsadek and Cody Creason.
3. Walker sighting
Speaking of the offensive line, we finally got to see redshirt freshman Keenan Walker in action in the second half. He played left tackle for the Blue team. But late in the fourth quarter he got hurt and limped off the field. Walker always has some sort of wrap on his left knee, and he also had an ice pack on his left ankle as he left the locker room. The recruiting gurus tell me he’s a big-time talent. It could be a while before we see it. The Wildcats have enough at tackle this year with Layth Friekh, Creason, Gerhard de Beer and Bryson Cain (whom the coaches really like). I’d put Walker in the developmental category for now, with an eye on 2018.
4. Zealous Zellers
It was good to see Parker Zellers participate in the scrimmage. The senior defensive lineman missed time earlier in spring camp because of a shoulder injury suffered in the season finale against Arizona State. He contemplated sitting out all of spring – not an uncommon move for fifth-year seniors – but got restless watching and working on the side. “At first I was like, ‘I’d rather be playing 10 games than 10 practices in the spring.’ But it’s still a chance to get better," Zellers said. "One day I got tired of sitting back and watching. I was like, ‘Screw it.’ I started taking some reps. It felt good. I just started going full speed.” Zellers is undersized but scrappy and provides invaluable leadership for the defense. He broke up a third-down pass by Dawkins late in the first half, forcing Team Blue to punt.
5. McCall waiting
Another encouraging sign for the defense: Senior safety Jarvis McCall Jr. performed well. McCall began last season as a starter before losing his job and dropping off the radar. He showed Friday night that he’s still around, breaking up a fourth-down pass from Dawkins intended for Shawn Poindexter and laying out tailback Quincy Wimbish with the biggest hit of the night. (Only Tate and Dawkins were immune from tackling – a smart move by Rich Rodriguez, who knew the intensity wouldn’t be what he wanted without real tackling.) Isaiah Hayes remains the favorite to start at free safety, but he’s just a sophomore who has yet to prove he can last a full season. Depth is paramount. As Rodriguez has acknowledged, the Wildcats need to play more guys on defense.
6. This time it’s personnel
A few more random notes … Tailback Nick Wilson looked rusty. He nearly lost one fumble and did lose another near the goal line. I commented at the time that he probably isn’t used to being hit, and Rodriguez corroborated that afterward. Wilson will be fine – if he can stay healthy. … Freshman tailback Nathan Tilford continued to impress. For a big man, he has a lot of subtle moves and a good feel for the game. … As mentioned, Taylor didn’t get of ton of touches. It was disappointing for those in attendance, because Taylor is so fun to watch, but a sensible decision in the big picture. … Matt Aragon at wide receiver could be a thing. The punter from Cienega High is 6-5, 211. I had him with two catches for 55 yards (although on one play he was uncovered). … While Tony Fields II has gotten a lot of love from teammates, I’d keep an eye on fellow freshman Jose Ramirez as well. Arizona has been using him at Stud, and he appears to have the frame to hold his own in the box.
Finally, here are some of the recruits who attended the scrimmage on unofficial visits (partial list, in alphabetical order):
- ATH Michael Bates Jr./Edsel Ford (Dearborn, Mich.)
- RB Gary Bragg/Mountain Pointe (Phoenix)
- S Kenny Churchwell/Mountain Pointe (Phoenix)
- DL Kai Golden/Mountain View
- QB Jamarye Joiner/Cienega (Vail)*
- DL Tyler Manoa/St. Francis (Mountain View, Calif.)
- ATH Malone Mataele/Santa Margarita (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.)
- LB Clyde Moore/Corona del Mar (Newport Beach, Calif.)
- OL Chris Murray/Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
- QB Jack Plummer/Gilbert
- WR Gunner Romney/Chandler
- WR Khalil Shakir/Vista Murrieta (Murrieta, Calif.)
- RB Zidane Thomas/Centennial (Peoria)
- OL David Watson/Amphitheater
(*-has verbally committed to Arizona)