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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona Spring Showcase notebook: Khalil Tate shines; punter catches passes and Rodriguez loves Las Vegas for Pac-12 Championship


Freshman running back Nick Wilson (28) runs with the ball during UA’s 58-13 win against UNLV on Aug. 29 at Arizona Stadium. Wilson started the second game of the season and put his name in the Arizona record books after he rushed for 174 yards and one touchdown.

Compared to the first go-around of the Arizona football Spring Showcase, which turned out to be more of a glorified practice, Friday’s open practice was drew more fans and the tempo was more consistent.

There were two guest coaches and they drafted each player so it was a game format rather than watching the walk-on wide receivers catch passes in drills. The format was 12-minute quarters with running clock, one winner, one loser and whichever team lost, had to eat spam and bread for dinner rather than a gourmet meal.

Friday was the final chance we got to see Arizona in the spring and as the Wildcats take another step towards next season, they still have some work to do, because a 3-9 season isn’t as elementary as it seems.

Dog days off summer:

For having a down season that was just a continuous train wreck, hearing either “great strides” or “progress” would’ve been the expected words for the end of spring practice, but head coach Rich Rodriguez was modest.

“It was steady. It’s going to be an important summer,” Rodriguez said.

Important is correct. The Wildcats were ranked No. 67 in the FBS in total offense and 115th in total defense, just one spot lower than Akron and one spot higher than Ball State. Not good company to be around for a Pac-12 school, but ASU, California and Oregon were ranked lower in defense so glass half-full right?

Rodriguez is still in limbo, because nearly half of his roster for next season is getting ready for their prom or finishing up final credits to transfer.

“As of now, there are 43-44 newcomers that’ll be joining us in June so it’s going to be a very competitive August,” Rodriguez said. “There’s going to be some open competition at all of the positions.”

Khalil Tate heating up the quarterback competition:

With Anu Solomon competing for the starting quarterback position at Baylor, Brandon Dawkins is assumed to be the starter behind center, but Khalil Tate flashed improvement from last season. Tate redshirted last season as a freshman, but it was removed once he received action against UCLA.

In seven games, Tate completed 18 passes and struggled to step up when called upon so he went into spring practice with more forbearance.

“When you have patience, you start learning things more, because you’re calm and not as antsy,” Tate said.

Even Rodriguez was pleased with what he saw out of his young quarterback.

“He showed some good things. He’s a talented guy and still has some ways to go, but he’s got a chance to compete,” Rodriguez said.

There has been stiff competition at quarterback in recent history for Rodriguez, but none have ever worked on strengths as much as they should according to Rodriguez.

“I don’t think the last few summers have been as aggressive working on their skills and their game as they need to be,” Rodriguez said. “Frankly, when I sit down and talk to them in a week, that’s going to be our conversation.”

Dawkins may have more game experience and is older, but Tate as a second-stringer ready to go at all times is crucial. And for the injury plague that has hit the QB position in recent years, Tate could get playing time earlier than expected.

More than a punter:

Imagine as a head coach and the punter walked in the office and said, “coach, I want to be a wide receiver.”

Most coaches would spit out whatever drink or food they have in their mouth and just laugh, but Rodriguez is optimistic. 

Very optimistic, because redshirt sophomore Matt Aragon managed to show skills at catching with a couple of over-the-shoulder fade catches running down the sideline.

“He actually came to me two weeks ago and said, ‘Coach I just feel like I’m working too hard just to punt a couple times at the beginning of practice and I still wanna’ compete at that, but I also want to compete at wide out’ and he’s a good athlete so I said, ‘oh absolutely’,” Rodriguez said. “I think he’s got a chance… I’m glad he made that wise choice. These guys are smarter than me anyways so it was good.”

Rodriguez said usually if a special teams player makes an outlandish suggestion, he leads him right back to a football player’s bible: the playbook.

“Most of the time I tell them to look at the playbook, which has two pages. One: make the kick and two: period,” Rodriguez said. “I guess they studied the playbook and after five minutes, they’re ready for the next page.”

Viva Las Vegas:

The Oakland Raiders are set to move to Las Vegas in 2020 and since the Pac-12 basketball tournament is in Sin City, why not move the football championship there and just make the city the official conference postseason city?

“I think that’ll be a great venue,” Rodriguez said. “We play in a fabulous stadium now, but they have a new stadium there and having the Pac-12 championship in Vegas, just like the basketball tournament, I think it’ll be a slam dunk. I’m sure the city is excited about it.”

Veteran players on Arizona were young when the Wildcats won the Pac-12 South and played in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. for the conference championship. Arizona played Oregon and Levi’s Stadium had the second lowest attendance during the Pac-12 Championship era. It was also the lowest since it moved to Levi’s Stadium and that season was the inaugural Pac-12 Championship at the world-class 49ers stadium.

“It was a good experience and a nice venue, but the stands weren’t nearly as packed as we thought it would be,” Defensive lineman Parker Zellers said. “It would be more exciting and more rewarding to play in a place like Las Vegas for a championship.”

It’s evident that west coast fans love to flock to Las Vegas for a week with how successful the Pac-12 Tournament was this season so maybe, just maybe Arizona can put together a team worthy enough of reaching that point. For now let’s focus on getting above .500 and not playing in the New Mexico Bowl.

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.

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