Pac-10 spring practice preview: Arizona
2009: 8-5 (6-3)
Perhaps the only downside to an eight-win season and tying for second-place in the Pac-10 is that your program is put on the national radar, which in college football means your coordinators become wanted men.
That’s exactly what happened to the Arizona Wildcats, who lost offensive mastermind Sonny Dykes to the head gig at Louisiana Tech and savvy Mark Stoops to run the defense for Florida State. Realizing that it will be no easy task replacing the two on staff, head coach Mike Stoops elected to use a coordinator-by-committee approach on both sides of the ball in 2010.
When spring practice opens on Friday, Tim Kish and Greg Brown will run the defense, while Bill Bedenbaugh and Seth Littrell will be in charge of the offense — with extra help from new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo. While Brown is the only one coming from a different program — he left Colorado — spring practice will still serve as an introductory period for the new coaching system in place. Will the same schemes be run? If not, how will the players adjust? Perhaps most importantly, how will having co-coordinators affect the entire coaching staff?
Offensively, the Wildcats looked stellar last season — until the final three games when the unit went stagnant, culminating in a horrid 33-0 Holiday Bowl loss to Nebraska. Quarterback Nick Foles, whose particular efforts against Oregon State, Stanford and Oregon landed him on the college football radar, struggled mightily in the bowl game, though he was missing future pro tight end Rob Gronkowski and top running back Nic Grigsby. But now his job gets even tougher with a new OC.
It’ll help, however, to be surrounded by tons of skill players, starting with a very deep backfield highlighted by Grigsby. Big sophomore wideout Juron Criner should build on a breakout sophomore campaign, and Foles will also have David Roberts, Delashaun Dean and David Douglas to chuck the rock to in Tucson.
Defensively, Arizona lost all three of its starting linebackers from ’09, so rebuilding the second level of the defense will be of primary concern. Stoops brought in two JUCO transfers, Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls, who will have the early edge in the competition for two of the starting gigs. Both are already on campus working out with the team. Sophomore Jake Fischer, redshirt freshman Trevor Erno and redshirt freshman Cordarius Golston will battle for the third spot. The unit lacks any extensive playing experience, but the young players impressed Wildcats coaches last season in practice.
The player to watch this spring is the much-hyped Adam Hall. The 6-4 free safety is big and athletic, and he contributed nicely on special teams as a freshman last year. The Tucson native will now get his chance to be a full-time player on defense and show the playmaking ability that everyone believed he possessed when he was signed.
So while the Wildcats enter spring coming off an impressive 2009 season, there are many questions to answer, most importantly on the sideline with the coaching staff. It’s an odd place to be — getting comfortable with a staff shake-up following a successful season — but Stoops has the ingredients to get it done, along with the mentality to put his team’s dreadful bowl performance in the distant past.
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