Arizona kicked off spring practices earlier this week, but here are three questions to keep an eye on as the Wildcats move through their practices.
1. What kind of improvement will be shown by the defense?
There's a lot of turnover in the front seven as Arizona lost linebackers Michael Barton (65 tackles, 8.0 TFL), Paul Magloire Jr. (81 tackles, 5.5 TFL) and Tellas Jones (33 tackles) as well as defensive tackle Sani Fuimaono from the 2016 starting group. So, as the team moves forward into Year 2 of Marcel Yates' defense without these players, the Wildcats will look to establish a strong defensive tone that showed up sparingly a season ago. The good news for Arizona is that the secondary remains intact and that cohesion should help the unit -- which finished 11th in the Pac-12 in pass defense in 2016 -- takes steps forward this spring as the linebackers and defensive line take shape. The defense could see some young faces in big spots. Look for 2017 early enrollee outside linebacker Jose Ramirez and defensive lineman Sione Taufahema to try and make the most out of the vacancies up front as they attempt to slide into those roles.
The quarterback position is likely always on the mind of coach Rich Rodriguez and that seems to be especially true this spring. Earlier this week he was asked for his general thoughts after the second practice of the spring and after discussing a few random issues he stated: "We've still got to get better, particularly quarterback. We've got to get better throwing the ball." So, there it is. The Wildcats need to get better at quarterback (which is no big announcement or surprise considering Arizona accounted for 13 passing touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2016). But, Rodriguez isn't shy to bring it up, even unprompted. Dawkins got most of the starting reps last season as he stepped in for an injured Anu Solomon. He led the quarterbacks in passer efficiency rating and he led the team in rushing yards. Now, in order to become a more consistent quarterback for the Wildcats, he needs to become more patient and allow plays to develop a bit more (always a tough thing for a younger, mobile quarterback). But Tate is right there, and Rodriguez is happy to keep the competition as open as possible. Getting out from the bottom of the Pac-12 South is going to require reliable quarterback play, so, which one of these guys will eventually be the guy? And can he prove that during these spring practices?
3. Which wide receivers will be on the ends of those passes?
Three of the four top receivers off the 2016 roster are gone, leaving plenty of catches to had. Shun Brown, the team's leader in receiving yards and touchdowns, is back and was joined earlier this week by Cam Denson and Shawn Poindexter as the "starting" group for spring practices. Denson finished with 15 catches in 2016 while Poindexter had just six. With so much inexperience to go around, don't start to think that everything is settled, especially this early. Keep an eye on Devaughn Cooper, Tony Ellison and Cedric Peterson, who will continue to push for reps this spring.