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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

What to watch for during Arizona’s spring game on Saturday

After its first spring under head coach Rich Rodriguez, the Arizona football team will hold its annual spring game on Saturday at 1 p.m. The team will play at Kino Stadium while Arizona Stadium undergoes renovation. Here are five things to watch during the scrimmage:

Will Rodriguez let Matt Scott loose?

The Wildcats recently added junior college transfer quarterback B.J. Denker to its roster for the fall, a welcome addition for a team that has just one scholarship quarterback, senior Matt Scott, on its roster. That fact is why head coach Rich Rodriguez has a no-contact rule for Scott, to reduce the risk of him getting hurt.

Denker, who runs a 4.47 40-yard dash according to Scout.com, won’t join the Wildcats until the fall, so right now the only available quarterbacks are Scott, converted receiver Richard Morrison and walk-ons Tyler D’Amore and Alex Cappellini. Morrison might not see much time at quarterback on Saturday due to a shoulder injury.

In his career, specifically at West Virginia, Rodriguez found the most success when he was able to run the ball through his quarterback. Pat White thrived in this system, Denard Robinson thrived in this system, and while Matt Scott might not be as fast as those two, he is certainly capable of succeeding as well.

For now, Rodriguez has avoided letting Scott run loose. But, maybe he will give him a chance on Saturday.

Who will emerge on the offensive line?

Sophomore offensive tackles Fabbians Ebbele and Mickey Baucus, both 6-foot-8 behemoths, protected former quarterback Nick Foles as freshmen — Baucus on the left side and Ebbele on the right. So far this spring, Scott has yet to take a snap with either of his big linemen protecting him.

Baucus has been held out of spring drills as he recovers from back surgery and Ebbele has been suspended since March for his role in a campus-area brawl. Baucus is expected to return in the fall, but Ebbele’s status with the UA is up in the air.

In the meantime, offensive line coach Robert Anae has been forced to mix and match.

Chris Putton, a starter at left guard last season, has been practicing at left tackle for most of the spring. Putton was a left tackle in high school so he has some experience, but he’s a bit undersized compared to the 6-foot-8, 290-pound Baucus. Eric Bender-Ramsay, also a guard, has been getting some time at left tackle as well. If Ebbele does not return to the program, between Putton, Bender-Ramsay, Trent Spurgeon or whoever else, someone needs to emerge because Arizona can’t afford to lose Scott, especially with the lack of depth at quarterback.

Will Rodriguez be any closer to figuring out a depth chart after the game?

Rodriguez has said over and over again that he won’t have a depth chart, or even a two-deep rotation, set after the spring. That doesn’t mean we can’t speculate. Matt Scott, running back Ka’Deem Carey, receivers Dan Buckner and Austin Hill, center Kyle Quinn, linebacker Jake Fischer, safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant and fullback Taimi Tutogi are all safe bets to secure starting roles.

Everything else is pretty much up for grabs. Some players have impressed thus far in the spring and have likely earned playing time, but Rodriguez has been so non-committal about the depth chart that nothing is certain.

Running backs Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler have done well in both scrimmages; Garic Wharton has emerged at wide receiver and defensive tackle Willie Mobley appears to have recovered nicely from his injury, but for all we know Rodriguez doesn’t plan on starting any of them.

Will the defense show some improvement?

In two spring scrimmages, the offense has clearly held an advantage. A large part of that has been, as Rodriguez has pointed out repeatedly, a lack of conditioning. That, coupled with the growing pains that come with learning Jeff Casteel’s 3-3-5 defensive scheme, have helped the Wildcats’ explosive offensive hold the advantage thus far.

A few key defensive players have been held out this spring, including the suspended Jourdon Grandon and arguably Arizona’s top corner in Jonathan McKnight, which is as good a reason as any for the early struggles.

Transfer linebacker Brian Wagner, who was the second-leading tackler in the nation for Akron last season, hasn’t made much of an impact just yet. But, it’s still early, and the biggest question on Saturday will be how far the defense has come in terms of learning the new system.

Is kicker John Bonano’s job safe?

With the much-ballyhooed struggles of former kicker Alex Zendejas, followed by a failed attempt at installing Jaime Salazar at kicker, John Bonano’s performance kicking field goals last year was a silver lining on an otherwise terrible season for Arizona special teams.

On the season, Bonano went 8-for-12 on field goals, with a long of 47 yards, 24-for-24 on extra points and had 22 touchbacks on kickoffs.

Yet, as the mantra has been this spring, no job is safe under Rodriguez. That fact is amplified with the under-the-radar addition of transfer kicker Jake Smith.

Smith joined the UA in January as a walk-on after spending last year with Youngstown State and 2010 with Syracuse. Early in spring ball, Rodriguez said Smith would have a chance to kick the ball this season.

“He’s been, I don’t want to say a pleasant surprise because we thought he had some ability from watching some highlights from him, but I think he’s having an outstanding spring,” Rodriguez said of Smith. “I think John Bonano’s got a great leg. He’s a good, solid kicker but we need another one and Jake has done some pretty good things so far in five practices.”

Kickers are typically judged on a “what have you done for me lately” basis, so if Smith thrives on Saturday, he might be able to wrangle away the starting spot — at least for the time being.

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