Without naming names, here’s some questions and random thoughts for Arizona Football now that Spring Camp is underway.
Offensive Line Sustainability
Depth has been a problem at Arizona, but it’s really been a serious problem in the past few seasons. On the offensive line, Arizona has struggled to keep its two deep rotation intact for a sustained stretch of games let alone an entire season. Establishing, developing, and maintaining depth has to become a top priority for the program. The coaching staff can work out the details of who will start and serve as key backups over the next six months, but player development begins right now in the month of March.
Will arm strength at the quarterback position matter? The offensive coordinator stated publicly this week that he has already massaged the offense to better reflect the skill sets of Arizona’s crop of quarterbacks. That’s a good thing. However, unless the offensive line can hold up for the course of the entire season, will a quarterback with a strong arm and ability to throw on the run be needed to not only stretch out defenses but also make plays when things breakdown and the quarterback must operate in scramble mode. The likely season starter is an accurate passer, but didn’t show any semblance of arm strength and zip on the ball on passes of 20 yards or longer last year as a freshman. Of course, Arizona did have a starting quarterback that lacked touch on the shorter passes in recent seasons, so perhaps touch trumps zip in 2020. We’ll see.
Arizona needs to find some fast. With new coaches in key roles on both sides of the ball, it’s kind of now or never to start developing true team chemistry on and off the field. Defensively, it’s an entirely new defensive look with a mix of veteran players and underclassmen that will be seeing significant playing time in their careers. The defensive coaching philosophy is proven and the talent is there. However, it won’t show in games unless there’s 100% buy in from the players into what the coaches are selling. The same goes for the offense. The offensive coordinator is making slight changes to adjust to the quarterbacks most likely to play in 2020, the running backs have a new coordinator, and the receiving corps is searching for a newfound identity after a rough showing in 2019. How these critical offensive units gel and then unite around an offensive line making adjustments to its blocking schemes will determine whether or not Arizona achieves a level of success that actually results in wins.
Statistics aside, and they were horrendous in 2019, all phases of special teams require improvement. For a team like Arizona, which lacks the depth of the true national powerhouse programs, this means incorporating more offensive and defensive starters on these units. It also means adding real focus to an overall strategy for special teams. Last year, nothing seemed to make sense on special teams. From missed field goals to poor punts, coverages, blocking, and returns, it was difficult to figure out what Arizona was even trying to accomplish on special teams. Fans don’t want any more word vomit about how special teams is a priority in this program. Last year’s performance is proof that it wasn’t. The Arizona coaches need to emphasize the value these units bring to winning football games, identify the players that will get the job done, and practice until these units get it right. Once that’s figured out, they then need to cross their fingers that key contributors remain healthy. Worrisome, is the Catch 22 Arizona has been in for years. Generally, you don’t want starters on special teams in fear of injury. However, a school like Arizona needs starters on special teams to actually compete with the bigger schools that do feature depth of talent.
Mixing Defensive Looks
The 3-4 Defense is a nice defensive package to actually disguise looks at the line of scrimmage before the snap. The ability to trip up a quarterback at the snap and gain just one extra second of quarterback decision time could be the difference between getting a defensive stop, or the opponent getting a first down. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of Arizona’s new defensive looks and how they may impact a game. Again, if the players buy in to the concept, Arizona’s defense could be the most improved unit on the entire team in 2020.