New and improved?
Sure, looked like it at Arizona Stadium on Saturday afternoon. How good and how improved will be fully determined in five months … so, be patient.
But after 15 spring practices the improvement is noticeable at a number of positions compared to Jedd Fisch’s first year.
Freshman Tetairoa McMillan looked good, catching a few passes including a touchdown. Freshman tight end Keyan Burnett caught a touchdown. Yes, a tight end caught a touchdown.
And for Arizona – and its fans – that’s a good thing.
Transfer quarterback Jayden de Laura looked strong. Freshman quarterback Noah Fifita looked really good, even if he’s short (5-9) for a quarterback at this level.
But impressive is impressive.
And the defense – well, looked aggressive and better at creating turnovers from Arizona’s offense that at times struggled with penalties and turnovers.
But, hey, it’s spring and things can only get better, right?
“I know we have a long, long way to go, but I think we had some playmakers out there today which was fun to see,” Fisch said after the annual Spring Game. “And then we just have to just get better in the next four or five months.”
The clock is ticking, beginning now to win more than just one game and perhaps a few more. Last season’s 1-11 finish wasn’t what the coaches wanted – or anyone wanted – but it’s over with. Now, new-and-improved talent is here and more will be coming in over the summer.
But more about the here and now, where de Laura looked like he’s going to be the No. 1 quarterback heading into the fall, although Fisch wouldn’t go there.
“That doesn’t bother me,” de Laura said of Fisch not talking about a depth chart.
Nor should it. The quarterback situation looks to be upgraded to start the season, given Jordan McCloud looked good (he was the first quarterback out there), de Laura looked good as the second guy and Fifita looked impressive, too. Will Plummer did not participate after having shoulder surgery earlier in the week. He’s expected to be out until mid-to-late September. And Gunner Cruz finished the scrimmage.
“I think they’ve both done a great job of learning the system,” Fisch said of his QB newcomers. “I think what they’ve done is they’ve really embraced it. We haven’t cut anything back. We’ve been able to kind of try to find some of their strengths and play to their strengths. But I think in general, I think they did a really nice job of picking things up. We didn’t have to hold anything back.”
That was important. And perhaps critical as UA moves forward with its quarterbacks.
Fifita looked good, strong and confident. He had a way about himself.
“We say that the three biggest traits of a quarterback (are) decision-making, timing and accuracy,” Fisch said. “So, decisiveness, to me, puts in both one and two. What impresses me (about Fifita) is he’s got great command of the offense. He’s got great control of the huddle. And when you see him play (and) the ball comes out of his hand, flies out of his hand, but the guy knows exactly where to go with the ball. And he does it with great rhythm and timing.”
That’s what it appeared.
The one problem was the turnovers. The quarterbacks had a couple of picks, including one that went for 90 yards when Jaxen Turner picked off McCloud and raced to the endzone.
Newcomer de Laura also had a pick. In total, UA had a reported 25 for the entire spring. Good thing for the defense, bad thing for the offense. Fisch called it a “double whammy.”
“What we want to do is (have them) understand that we have to protect the ball and we have to take the ball,” Fisch said. “And in turn that’s going to happen in these practices. Because what would be horrible is if we had no takeaways. We went through training camp last year and had two picks. We can’t have that; we have to see it. I love the way our guys are attacking the ball, and I’m proud of our defense, and we got to continue to clean it up offensively. And not give the ball away. We’re gonna be committed to doing that.”
De Laura said it’s all about “better decision making and being on the same page” for everyone.
And if that happens, he said, “the sky’s the limit for the offense. We have obviously been getting glimpse of what our defense can do. So ….”
… until August when they return.