Arizona Football

Arizona spring showcase: Talented RBs; QBs working on mechanics

The Arizona Wildcats football team held a Spring Showcase on Thursday night, which wasn’t a Spring Game, or even much of a showcase.

The event at Arizona Stadium would more appropriately be referred to in simpler terms: Practice No. 7.

If you were one of the couple hundred at the stadium, or watching on the Pac-12 Networks, hold your conclusions … unless you make a habit of basing projections on what you see halfway through spring practice.

“Not a very good practice. I thought we had four other practices better than this one, for whatever reason,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I think they weren’t sure of the format and there was a lot of standing around, made-for-TV stuff.

“We may have another one of these true spring games at the end of the month, because this was almost a wasted day.”

Rodriguez said he would have preferred to push back the date of a public peek at his team — especially given the need to hire two new assistants after the departure of wide receivers coach Tony Dews and tight ends/special teams coach Charlie Ragle following Signing Day — but Arizona already was locked into this date by the Pac-12 Networks.

So, it was what it was.

“We got a little work in,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll be all right.”

While we strongly caution against reading too much into anything at mid-spring, here are some observations, news and notes on Arizona football:

J.J. Taylor

Can’t wait to see more of J.J. Taylor

The redshirt freshman running back — he gained back his season of eligibility after suffering a broken ankle in the fourth game of last season — said he’s only 80 percent of the way back from injury. He sometimes looked Thursday like he was a physically impossible 110 percent back.

“He’s a special talent,” Rodriguez said.

Taylor said he doesn’t have back the full flexibility and strength in the ankle, which is why RichRod is being cautious with the running back’s reps this spring. All will be fine as long as he’s full strength by fall camp.

The small back with super cuts averaged 6.9 yards on his 38 carries before being hurt at the end of a gang tackle by Washington.

“If that’s 80 percent,” quarterback Brandon Dawkins gushed after Thursday night’s practice, “I would love to see what it looks like when it’s 100 again.”

Nathan Tilford looks the part

A backfield of Nick Wilson, Taylor and Tilford? Nothing wrong with that.

“If we can keep them healthy, we’ll be OK at tailback,” Rodriguez said.

That’s the trick, of course, but Tilford is a great hedge against potential absences from the oft-injured Wilson and Taylor isn’t the biggest back, although he said he’s bulked up 20 pounds from 160 when he first arrived at Arizona.

Tilford, a four-star signee who enrolled early, looks ready to roll right now.

This is what Taylor said of the 6-foot-2, 203-pound Tilford:

“He’s going to be a monster.”

And here is what Dawkins had to say:

“He’s looking good. … He seems really athletic. He catches the ball smooth. He runs a little high, but he’s a young guy, so once he gets hit a couple of times, he’ll figure that out. But he runs really strong. He’s running stronger than anybody I’ve seen in a while. That’s going to be a big plus for us in the backfield.”

What the QBs are working on

Dawkins and Khalil Tate combined to complete 51.1 percent of their passes last season (116 of 227), which is at least 10 percent short of ideal. It’s great that Arizona beat Arizona State 56-35 last season while completing three passes — and attempting none in the second half — but that, too, is not ideal.

“We’ve got to get better throwing the ball,” Rodriguez said.

Quarterbacks coach Rod Smith has identified two mechanical areas for Dawkins and Tate to work on this offseason.

For Dawkins, it’s about being able to “tighten down” his throwing motion, getting the ball out faster. For Tate, it’s about “balance transfer.”

Balance transfer?

“We don’t want a kid throwing while drifting off to the side,” Smith said.

“You want their feet up underneath their armpits and to be able to transfer their weight forward into the throw. That’s more-balanced. That way, they are more accurate. Khalil sometimes has a tendency to play ‘backyard ball’ while trying to make a play.

“We’re trying to get him to be more fundamentally sound.”

Legacy recruit playing hard

Even though defensive tackle Justin Holt — son of ex-Cat Julius Holt — had to give up football because of concussion problems, Arizona has a few other legacy recruits on the current roster: Cornerback Sammy Morrison (son of Darryl Morrison) and tight end Trevor Wood (son of Dave Wood).

One you might not know is walk-on redshirt freshman quarterback Gunther Johnson. He is the son of former offensive lineman Eric Johnson, who played in 1992 and 1993.

“Great kid. Gunther has worked his tail off,” Smith said.

“He is still learning. He did all the scout team stuff us last year. He probably did zero or our terminology, our stuff. This spring, he’s getting an opportunity to get in and take some reps. It’s on-the-job-training for him, but he’s doing well.”

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