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Tailback J.J. Taylor stars in Arizona Wildcats’ spring scrimmage
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Arizona Football

Tailback J.J. Taylor stars in Arizona Wildcats’ spring scrimmage

If this is what J.J. Taylor looks like at 80 percent, it’s scary to think how effective he’ll be when he’s fully functional.

The redshirt freshman running back was the star of the Arizona Wildcats’ “Spring Showcase” at Arizona Stadium on Thursday night, even though he still isn’t all the way back from the broken ankle that shelved him last season.

After darting through the UA defense on multiple occasions — and looking like the fastest man on the field — Taylor insisted he’s still at about 80 percent. He gave the same self-assessment earlier in spring camp.

“I’m not a full speed yet,” Taylor said. “But I’ll get there soon.”

To the untrained eye, Taylor appeared to be the same back who rushed for 265 yards in seven quarters against Hawaii and Washington. He ran inside and out, made defenders miss and popped back up after being taken down.

“He’s a freak,” tight end Trevor Wood said.

“The sky’s the limit,” quarterback Brandon Dawkins said. “If that’s 80 percent, it’s really impressive.”

“It’s crazy,” guard Jacob Alsadek said. “Sometimes you’ll block somebody, you’ll look over and he’s 20 yards downfield already.”

UA coach Rich Rodriguez considers Taylor a “special talent.” Still, Rodriguez would like to see the Wildcats’ defense do a better job of stopping him in spring practice.

Asked about Taylor being brought to the ground while still in the recovery phase from his injury, Rodriguez said: “I would prefer, defensively, that they take him to the ground quicker. It looked like they were taking him to the ground 30 yards down the field. He’s not in a red shirt, so he should have gotten tackled a little quicker. That’s probably easier said than done.”

Taylor said he hopes to be at full strength by the start of fall camp in August. The 5-foot-6-inch product of Corona, California, has added 20 pounds of muscle since arriving on campus, now weighing in at 180 pounds. He described Thursday night as “just another practice.”

“I just look at it as another chance to get better and to work on my craft,” Taylor said.

Seven isn’t enough

Rodriguez didn’t think the two-hour workout Thursday night was particularly sharp. It might have had something to do with the format, which was structured around Pac-12 Networks’ TV coverage.

“I think we had four other practices better than this one,” Rodriguez said. “This was almost a wasted day.”

Rodriguez lamented missed tackles, pass-protection breakdowns and some questionable decision-making by the quarterbacks. Khalil Tate threw an interception in a goal-line drill. Rodriguez also didn’t think the Wildcats were as physical as in previous practices.

“Out of 10, I’d say like, a seven,” cornerback Dane Cruikshank said when asked about the intensity level Thursday night. “We need to be at a 10 at all times to be a good defense or a good team. Period.

“But it’s still early. We’ve still got a lot more practices to go. We still have a lot of young guys that have to figure it out and know their role.”

Starting Monday, Arizona has eight spring practices remaining.

Missing Anu

Even though he would have competed with him for the starting job, Dawkins said he misses fellow quarterback Anu Solomon, who transferred to Baylor.

“I told him I got his back no matter what he does,” Dawkins said. “I hate to see him leave. Obviously he’s got to do what’s best for him. I wanted him here for the competition and the camaraderie. To have him around with all the experience over the last 2½, three years, it’s been immense. He’s taught me just about everything he knows.”

Extra points

  • Senior tailback Nick Wilson was out of town to attend the funeral of his former coach Justin Garza at Fresno (Calif.) Central High, who died of cancer at age 41.
  • Three players wore green jerseys (limited) and were held out of team drills: defensive lineman Parker Zellers and receivers Shun Brown and Cedric Peterson.
  • The following players wore yellow jerseys and worked exclusively on the side: offensive linemen Gerhard de Beer and Keenan Walker; tight end Brion Anduze; defensive lineman Jalen Cochran; and linebacker Lee Anderson III.
  • Several former UA players attended the scrimmage, including Lance Briggs, Scooby Wright, David Richards and Reggie Gilbert.
  • Arizona will hold a Fan Appreciation Day on Saturday, April 22, from noon-1:30 p.m. at Arizona Stadium. The event includes an autograph session with coaches and players.

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