The offense was ahead of the defense throughout spring, which is not the typical state of affairs for Arizona.
Throughout the Pac-10 years, the Wildcats almost exclusively have been known as a defensive-first outfit. But the big questions at the end of spring were on that side of the ball. The depth chart remains fluid at linebacker -- where Arizona lost three starters -- and in the secondary, where it was mix-and-match all spring, except for Trevin Wade at one cornerback spot.
"If we can get our linebacker group solidified over the next three months, then definitely I think we can make some improvement," coach Mike Stoops said after the spring game.
The Wildcats return almost every key offensive player, although it was a blow when tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed last season because of a back injury, decided to leave early for the NFL. Still, as it is, Stoops called the quarterback position the strength of the team, followed by a very deep receiving corps.
Junior Nick Foles returns at quarterback, backed up by junior Matt Scott, a running threat who featured a much-improved throwing motion this spring. That was a credit to new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo, who came to Arizona in a "trade" for former Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes. Dykes became the head coach at Louisiana Tech in the offseason, which left Scelfo, the Bulldogs' offensive coordinator, looking for a new job.
In Stoops' first six years at Arizona, the quarterbacks coach also was the offensive coordinator. That's not the case with Scelfo, who is able to focus just on being a position coach. As an assistant at Tulane, he sent four quarterbacks to the NFL.
"I think it's a different aspect that we haven't had for the quarterback position," Stoops said. "You can have all the ability, but you still have to have the proper mechanics to throw the football accurately. Frank's expertise in that area has definitely helped."
It's helped make offense the projected strength of the team.NOTES, QUOTES
--Arizona's practice field was undergoing renovation in the spring, forcing the Wildcats to practice at Arizona Stadium and at a local high school. The renovations, which include an extension and the instillation of areas of FieldTurf, were expected to be completed in time for fall practice. It's the first phase of a project that will include renovations to the north end of Arizona Stadium, including a new football plant with offices and locker rooms.
--Arizona entered spring without having announced an offensive play-caller. After the departure of coordinator Sonny Dykes, coach Mike Stoops elevated offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and running backs/tight ends coach Seth Littrell to co-coordinators. As it turns out, Littrell will be the one to call the plays, although he's quick to point out it's a collaborative effort. Littrell, 31, was a running back at Oklahoma during the national championship season of 2000.
FB/RB/H-back/TE Taimi Tutogi -- The 258-pound sophomore ended up playing a lot of tailback in the spring and looked good doing it. He could end up being a single back as part of a jumbo package, but coach Mike Stoops said he didn't mind just putting him back there at running back in other occasions. Tutogi is physical, versatile and has good hands, which he showed in the spring game, with a one-handed reception deep over the middle that went for 73 yards as he plowed over a couple of defenders after the catch.
WR Juron Criner -- He emerged as a big-play threat last season, with nine touchdown catches among his 45 receptions, and he looked even better this spring. The 6-4 junior should be one of the Pac-10's best.
QB Matt Scott -- He didn't wrest the starting position from Nick Foles, but Scott was much more comfortable and accurate throwing the ball, which will make him a true dual-threat when coaches use him as a change-up to Foles in games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we have some playmakers. We hopefully will be able to get some yards, some big yards in chunks. We had to work pretty hard for our yards last year. I like what we're doing offensively." -- UA coach Mike Stoops, on his offense.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Arizona has made steady progress under coach Mike Stoops, who is entering his seventh season. Last season was his best, as the Wildcats finished in a tie for second in the Pac-10, earning a berth in the Holiday Bowl. The fact that UA was embarrassed 33-0 by Nebraska in that game just served as a reminder of the work that still needs to be done. Stoops has upgraded the talent and depth all over the board, and the Wildcats -- with the exception of the Holiday Bowl -- have competed with everybody in recent years. This year should be more of the same. Arizona is good, probably not great, and should expect to find itself in many more fourth-quarter battles as it tries for another top-division finish.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The offense should be very good, benefitting from a year of experience and, hopefully, a full year of health from starting running back Nic Grigsby, who missed most of the Pac-10 season because of a shoulder injury. Arizona is deep at running back -- with Keola Antolin, Greg Nwoko, Daniel Jenkins and Taimi Tutogi -- but Grigsby is the true home-run threat.
The Wildcats are a spread-based team, but they have the personnel to be a power running team, too, which makes them multiple and unpredictable. The receiving corps is lead by a pair of 6-4 wideouts -- Juron Criner and Delashaun Dean. The offensive line returns four starters, with sixth-year senior Adam Grant moving from right tackle to left tackle this spring. The only real concern on offense is the need to develop more depth on the offensive line.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: A pair of mid-year junior college transfers -- Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo -- appear to have won first-string jobs at linebacker, although much is still to be determined there after the Wildcats lost all three starters. The defensive line is the strength of the team, led by senior ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore. Backup end D'Aundre Reed is starter-quality, and he put on enough weight (up to about 260) to be able to slide inside in pass-rushing situations. In fact, UA experimented with a scheme in which it played four ends and as many as six defensive backs in a speedy package it dubbed "Cheetah."
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Arizona returns kicker Alex Zendejas and punter Keenyn Crier, who were adequate last season. Crier has a big leg but hasn't been consistent. Zendejas was 17 of 22 last season, although all but three attempts came from inside 40 yards. He needs to inspire more confidence on the longer kicks.
LB Derek Earls -- He and fellow mid-year signee linebacker Paul Vassallo should provide immediate help to a linebacker corps that lost all three starters. Earls (6-3, 230) was a first-team NJCAA All-American at North Dakota State College, making 108 tackles, including 14 for loss, last season. Earls worked early in the spring as the middle 'backer.
S Marquis Flowers -- Flowers, who picked the Wildcats over UCLA, ASU and USC, was the high school headliner of Arizona's class. Flowers (6-3, 200) had 62 tackles and two interceptions last season, also rushing 135 times for 1,247 yards and 16 touchdowns. He caught 13 passes for 162 yards. Arizona now has two big, young, athletic safeties as Flowers pairs with Adam Hall, one of the gems of the 2008 class.
DT Willie Mobley -- Arizona tried to recruit him out of high school, but lost him to Ohio State, where he redshirted in 2008. Mobley wanted to transfer to UCLA, but did not qualify, which led him to Arizona, where he had a good relationship with assistant Mike Tuiasosopo. Mobley, who did not play last season at Orange Coast CC in California, will have three seasons of eligibility left. He'll have a chance to play right away as the Cats lost both starting defensive tackles.
--Three key players missed spring ball because of injury -- RB Greg Nwoko (shoulder), starting OG Vaughn Dotsy (back) and potential starting DT Dominique Austin (toe).
--WR Richard Morrison, who redshirted as a freshman quarterback in 2009, made a successful conversion to wideout this spring. He brings athleticism to UA's inside receiver position.
--WR Gino Crump, a well-traveled junior who spent a year with the West Virginia football team, had an impressive spring. He arrived last summer as a walk-on amid no fanfare but he definitely made a name for himself this spring. He led the team in receiving in each of its two major scrimmages and will head into fall as a second-stringer.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010