Arizona’s season opener against Toledo is going to be here before we know it. The Wildcats report to fall camp on Wednesday with their first camp practice kicking off Thursday at 6 p.m. MST. Arizona will hold 19 practices in all as they prepare for not only the Rockets, but an inaugural campaign under head coach Rich Rodriguez who brings to Tucson a career record of 75-48 that includes a three-season stretch where he led the West Virginia Mountaineers to a 31-5 record.
WR Tyler Slavin
It’ll be interesting to see what becomes of the Arizona offense under Rich Rod. Wildcat fans have witnessed the veer offense, a pro-style attack, and a spread passing attacking referred to as “Air Zona” over the past 15 years. Rodriguez promises more of a balanced attack, a true 50-50 run to pass ratio. Fortunately, he has the quarterback to achieve such balance in Matt Scott who has been developed in Arizona’s passing system the past four seasons, yet came to Tucson as one of Southern California’s top read option, dual-threat quarterbacks.
While we’ll undoubtedly see Scott keep the football and try and gain yardage with his feet, the fifth-year senior will also be called upon to throw the football with pinpoint accuracy. Whether Scott can or cannot do that will depend on the sum of all parts rather than just Scott.
A year ago, a young offensive line had third-round NFL selection Nick Foles scrambling for his life while throwing for over 4,334 yards. This year, the Wildcat linemen will need to not only form a protective fence around the pocket, but also push forward and create running lanes. It’s a big challenge, but similar to the experience Scott brings to the table, the fact that the entire offensive line returns intact should be seen as a boon to Arizona’s offense.
The big men upfront will definitely face a daunting challenge in unlearning blocking keys from an offensive style that had them in pass support 70 percent of the time a year ago to a more decisive blocking scheme under Rodriguez that even when in pass protection will require them to maintain more ground at the initial point of attack rather than forming the perfect 5-step drop pocket.
Working in the line’s favor, though, is the reality that defenses will no longer be able to pin their ears back and attack the quarterback by collapsing the pocket. Defenses now will have to account for the entire field under Rodriguez, both horizontally and vertically, and that guessing game of run or pass on every single play should provide Arizona with a statistical advantage.
While it’s expected that Scott will have more time to throw, the key becomes the pass and catch combination. Scott has been labeled as “inaccurate” under the Stoops regime, even though Mike Stoops himself had admitted that Scott’s progression as a passer has been substantial. Working with a proven quarterback coach like Frank Scelfo for a season also helped, tremendously.
Still, this year, when Arizona does throw, Scott will need to deliver the ball with accuracy. More importantly, he’ll need to deliver a catchable ball where the nose is dipping down at the catch point – something Scott has struggled to do. Similarly, Arizona’s receivers will need to step up and make plays to complete the transaction.
Sure-handed receiver Juron Criner is now in the NFL. David Douglas, Arizona’s second-leading receiver in 2011 has also graduated, as has the reliable David Roberts.
WR Richard Morrison
Fortunately, the Wildcats do return a talented crop of pass catchers. However, while the talent is clearly present, some have struggled in securing the football and reeling in the tough grabs during spotted playing time.
Dan Buckner is by far the brand name of the Arizona receiving corps. Buckner was a top recruit when he committed to the Texas Longhorns out of high school. After transferring to Arizona, Buckner averaged 14.7 yards per catch on 42 pass receptions in his first real action as a Wildcat last season. This year, Buckner will be a primary target, but to become “the guy”, as he’s capable of doing, he’ll need to improve his red zone route running to improve upon his two touchdown receptions in 2011.
Richard Morrison and Garic Wharton on speed burners, and will spend most of their time slicing and dicing the middle of the field. Morrison is a proven performer, operating in tight spaces, but while the potential is there for Wharton the jury is still out on whether he can deliver on the biggest of stages.
Receivers Austin Hill, Tyler Slavin and Patrick Onwuasor, like Buckner, are big and physically imposing receivers. Each has loads of potential, but only Hill has delivered for Arizona as he came on strong in the second half of the 2011 campaign. Each will be asked to contribute in 2012, which is a daunting task for this collection of sophomores (Onwuasor is a rFr).
The “X” Factor might prove to be Terrence Miller. Miller was a star tight end/slot receiver in high school, and has made plays as a Wildcat throughout his career. However, Miller hasn’t yet reached his potential, and that might be due to the fact that the Stoops Regime could never quite figure out how to used the 6-foot-4, 230 pound receiver. If Rodriguez can find a home (i.e. a position) for Miller, the Southern California prospect could become a great, play making release valve for Scott and the Arizona offense.
It’s unlikely that Scott will match the passing numbers of recent Wildcat quarterbacks Willie Tuitama and Foles. However, it’s not unlikely to imagine an Arizona offense where Scott accounts for more than 3,000 total yards as both a rusher and passer. In fact, some argue that end-of-season numbers in which Scott throws for more than 2,000 yards and rushes for over 1,000 could be more problematic for opposing defenses than Foles throwing for more than 4,300 yards as a season ago.
Regardless of the impact, to be successful the Arizona passing game will require symmetry between the offensive line, Scott, and his skill players. Although that is stating the obvious, in a game of inches achieving the obvious is the most difficult thing in the world because it requires 11 different players doing the “little things” in sync to excel.
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Richard Morrison will star as a receiver, but also back up QB Matt Scott in 2012. His new number is No. 8.