Rodriguez: Wildcats weak but not worthless

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Mike Stoops was fired as Arizona's coach on Oct. 9. It appears that many of his players decided at that point to take a vacation, most notably from conditioning and weight-room work.

At least, that's new coach Rich Rodriguez's initial impression. He likes his players' enthusiasm. He sees some intriguing talent. But he's not really happy with the Wildcats' overall conditioning.

"We've got to get a whole lot faster and a whole lot stronger," he said during a news conference Thursday in advance of the first day of spring practices Monday.

Rodriguez fretted that his team was "weak, really weak."

Weak is not good, and how fast it transforms into adequately strong will be a part of the primary focus this spring: Evaluation. Yes, the Wildcats need to learn Rodriguez's spread-option system -- offensive coordinator Calvin Magee laughed at a reporter trying to get him to give the scheme a name -- and defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5, but the ultimate goal for the new coaches is figuring out what sort of talent they have and how to best use it.

In terms of executing scheme, things might be a bit ugly in the early going, starting with getting accustomed to an increased pace. Rodriguez's offense is not unlike Chip Kelly's at Oregon. Neither is a fan of the huddle. (And, by the way, new Arizona State coach Todd Graham is the same way.)

"The first spring is always the ugliest," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez's admittedly superficial take Thursday was interesting, as areas that seemed questionable -- running back, receiver and the defensive front seven -- he rated as "OK," while he questioned the offensive line and secondary, which on paper look fairly solid. While the line welcomes back five starters, Rodriguez said, "I don't know how athletic we are." He called a secondary that welcomes back several talented, experienced players "a concern."

"There are a lot more questions than answers," he said. "Hopefully, I will have some pleasant surprises once we start."

One mostly known quantity is QB Matt Scott. Scott, a senior, redshirted last year, but he's seen plenty of action, including a pair of impressive starts in 2010 in relief of an injured Nick Foles. While Rodriguez is not typically a believer in protecting his QBs with yellow no-contact jerseys, the fact that Scott is the only scholarship QB on the roster is forcing his hand.

Still, it's also clear that Rodriguez doesn't want Scott to feel too comfortable, even though his winning the starting job is a near-certainty.

"He's like me; he sat out last year," Rodriguez said. "I think he's hungry. I'd like to get him some competition."

That competition this spring will be provided by junior Richard Morrison, who was signed as a QB, converted to receiver -- he's caught 41 passes over the past two seasons -- and now moves back behind center.

Ultimately, Rodriguez mostly wants to put together a rough outline of something that is uncertain at present.

"We don't have a depth chart," he said.

Some notes:

  • News on the injury front, which was a huge reason the Wildcats defense was lousy in 2011, is pretty good. LB Jake Fischer, safety Adam Hall, defensive tackle Willie Mobley and running back Greg Nwoko range from full-go to practically full-go. CB Jonathan McKnight, the Wildcats' best cover corner before blowing out his knee, will be limited. OT Mickey Baucus (back) and his brother, Jack (knee), also an offensive lineman, will be limited.

  • Sophomore defensive linemen Sani Fuimaono and Aiulua Fanene are on two-year church missions. Fuimaono started two games last year and had seven tackles. Fanene started one and had eight.

  • The Wildcats will hold a scrimmage in the Phoenix area on March 24. The spring game is scheduled for April 14 and will be played off campus due to construction on a new football facility. The site for both scrimmages is not yet official.

  • Rodriguez said his family arrived permanently in Tucson on Wednesday but he has yet to settle into a home.