Five Burning Questions the Arizona Wildcats Look To Answer This Spring
The winter coats have been mothballed and packed back into storage.
The flip-flops, bikinis, suntan lotion, and sunglasses have reemerged from the bottom of the pile of clothes you meant to sort over winter.
More importantly, Arizona Wildcats fans have been fed a rationed supply of football to get them through the hibernation of winter.
The culmination of this spring meal comes on Saturday, April 10, with the annual Spring Game. The Wildcats had quite the offseason, fraught with coaching changes, players leaving, and players stepping up their games.
Here's a look at five questions Arizona fans want answered this Saturday.
1. Will Matt Scott compete for the starting quarterback job?
Last year this was the biggest offseason question for the Wildcats, and this season looks to add a sequel to the previous controversy. But what's a Wildcat offseason without a little QB drama?
In the minds of most 'Cat fans (and probably most of the coaches and players too), Nick Foles locked up the starting quarterback position for the next two years when he trotted out on to the field and led the Wildcats to a victory over Oregon State and kept on winning.
The end of the season saw Foles' production drop, most probably due to his injured hand, and the offseason saw offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes leave for Louisiana Tech.
The departure of Dykes left room for a couple of staff hirings, including new QB coach Frank Scelfo, who, ironically enough, comes to Tucson from Louisiana Tech.
Scott then surprised many Wildcat fans (and probably most of the coaches and players too) when he decided that he was not going to transfer and would continue to play for the Wildcats.
The mixture of a new offense, a new QB coach, and a hungry backup has left Foles in a no-guarantee situation. Scelfo has already said that the job isn't guaranteed and that all the quarterbacks will be starting with a fresh slate. It should be interesting to see who gets the majority of the reps on Saturday and to check out Scott's new release that Scelfo has been raving about.
2. Who will fill in the other two linebacker spots next to Derek Earls?
Okay, so not even Derek Earls is a lock to get one of the three vacated linebacker positions, but he's definitely the most physically ready to come in and play Pac-10 defense. At 6'4", he'll finally give the Wildcat linebacking corps some height and strength in the middle of the field.
Throughout spring, coach Mike Stoops and new defensive co-coordinators Greg Brown and Tim Kish have been rotating the linebackers on a pretty consistent basis, with almost no one getting a majority of repetitions.
Paul Vassallo has looked good so far but admits he's having trouble adjusting to the speed of play and the playbook. It's still a long way until the start of the season, however, and you can bet a solid Spring Game performance will go a long way toward giving him added reps.
After Vassallo there is a logjam at who may or may not be ready to play this fall.
R.J. Young and Jake Fischer have the most game experience, both playing roles as backups and on special teams last year.
C.J. Parish has plenty of experience but had trouble adapting to the defensive schemes in his first year at Arizona. Now, being a year into the system, it should be interesting to see how he has developed physically and mentally.
Trevor Erno was highly touted coming out of high school in 2009 but disappointed 'Cats fans when he showed up overweight and not physically college football-ready. Strength and conditioning coach Corey Edmond has worked feverishly with Erno during his redshirt year, and if he keeps up the physical aspect, his football IQ and natural ability could eventually be enough to allow him to play a major role this season.
Coaches have been impressed this spring with redshirt freshman Cordarius Gholston. Gholston has come a long way in learning the defense, and his speed to the ball and sideline-to-sideline quickness is reminiscent of Xavier Kelley.
3. Will Daniel Jenkins jump up the tailback depth chart?
Daniel Jenkins was highly rated in the 2009 class but found himself at the bottom of a depth chart that included Nic Grigsby, Keola Antolin, Greg Nwoko, and Nick Booth.
Despite an injury-plagued season at the position, Coach Stoops stayed the course on the decision to redshirt Jenkins.
Unfortunately for Daniel, three of the four tailbacks are back from last year, and Taimi Tutogi has been receiving repetitions at tailback this spring.
Fortunately for Daniel, it seems like some of the injuries from last season have carried over into the spring, and although the idea of hurling the bruising 260-lb. Tutogi at Pac-10 defensive lines is tantalizing, he won't be an every-down back.
Jenkins has taken advantage of his increased reps this spring, posting over 100 total yards of offense and a touchdown in the most recent scrimmage.
Jenkins is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and his combination of speed, toughness, and ability to see the field is, at times, staggering.
The biggest question for Jenkins will be whether or not he gets a chance to see the field next season, but 'Cats fans should get used to seeing Jenkins carry the ball if he does.
4. Who will play on the offensive line if one of the starters goes down?
The Wildcats return four starters to the offensive line this season, and the fifth starting job will most likely go to Phillip Garcia, who started several games at tackle when Mike Diaz got hurt last season.
Jack Julsing would be the most likely candidate to take over should one of the tackles go down. Julsing is a big, athletic, freak of a man and should be capable should the situation arise. However, his lack of playing time and repetitions is worrisome, and one would think that if his body was ready to play Pac-10 football, he would be playing already.
Eric Bender-Ramsay impressed his coaches during his redshirt freshman season in 2009. He earned offensive scout team Player of the Year honors and can be plugged into either guard spot.
Kyle Quinn has steadily improved his skills in front of the quarterback and has been working on his hand speed and run-blocking ability. Colin Baxter has suffered some injuries in the past, and with Blake Kearley's eligibility expiring, Quinn should be the top candidate to back up the center position.
There are other big, capable bodies on the depth chart, but the lack of game experience will most undoubtedly be a factor. Luckily for the Wildcats, they have a big, strong, and athletic crop of linemen arriving in Tucson this summer who might be able to compete for backup spots as freshmen.
5. How different will the offense look under its new co-coordinators?
The Arizona Wildcats debuted their Air-Zona offense in 2007 with Sonny Dykes. Fans oohed, aahed, bitched, and moaned for the next two years.
The biggest problem in Dykes' offense was an obvious shortage of over the middle pass calls and no major red zone threat once Rob Gronkowski got hurt.
Seth Littrell and Bill Bedenbaugh take over for Dykes and should run similar plays considering their tutelage with Dykes at Texas Tech and Arizona.
Bedenbaugh is an offensive line guru and should be able to draw up a couple of blocking schemes that will allow the receivers to get open in the middle of the field with space to work.
Arizona's receiving corps is perhaps the one position that won't have negative controversy this spring. It's deep. Really deep.
With so many receiving threats, the Wildcats will hopefully not have to worry about not being able to get it done in the red zone, but just in case, the former running backs coach Littrell is already tinkering with some of the offensive packages.
An interesting package seen in spring practice slides Taimi Tutogi to tailback, A.J. Simmons to H-back, and plugs Jack Baucus in at the tight end spot. With Simmons and Baucus blocking the way and Tutogi rumbling out of the backfield, it should give the Wildcats another interesting red zone threat.
Spring practice should answer some of these questions for us, but more than likely it will raise a lot more. After all, the Spring Game is only a tasty morsel designed to ebb our appetites for the summer.
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