Search for right QB
Wildcats need a clear-cut No. 1 to lead offense
By JOHN MOREDICH
The message being sent to University of Arizona quarterback Kris Heavner is clear – don’t make it close.
That is what Wildcat offensive coordinator Mike Canales is telling Heavner, the team’s No. 1 quarterback as preseason camp started last night at the Rincon Vista Complex.
“The important thing Kris has to do is make sure it is obvious, that there is no second- guessing whether he should be the starter or not,” Canales said. “He has to assert himself. I told him I didn’t want it to be close. That is the mind-set he has to have.”
Heavner was told following an intense battle in the spring he would be the No. 1 quarterback heading into the practices.
The sophomore started eight games last year, taking over for Nic Costa and Ryan O’Hara in week five of the season.
“There is a little pressure off my shoulders, but I still have a long ways to go and there is a lot of work for me to do,” Heavner said. “I got a lot of experience, so when I get into the games, I will be able to handle the pressure and the fans. I can come into the season ready to go.
“As a true freshman I was a little itchy. Now I can go in with the game plan and know that here is my reads and here is (where the blitzes are coming), stuff like that.”
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound product of Lyndon B. Johnson High School in Johnson City, Texas, worked hard to earn the starting nod. In order to keep the position he needs to cut down on turnovers and make big plays.
Heavner, one of six true freshman quarterbacks to start for a Division I-A team last year, set UA freshman passing records by completing 101 of 237 passes for 1,501 yards.
The one glaring problem was his eight touchdowns-to-15-interceptions ratio.
“We are trying to get him to relax and let him know that other guys around him can make plays, too,” Canales said. “We are trying to teach him to be a smart player and not just a better player.”
Lengthy hours this summer were spent not only in the weight room but studying game film and shoring up flaws in his technique.
Game film was a major priority for Heavner. He watched the same plays repeatedly.
“I know the differences between coverages better, who is coming here or there, and different blitzing schemes. It has been very helpful,” Heavner said. “Every part of my game was missing something, so I went into this summer wanting to work on everything. We worked on footwork, drops, every little aspect.”
If Heavner falters, even a little bit, O’Hara, Costa and Richard Kovalcheck are ready to pounce on the opportunity.
Costa, who is already seeing action at wide receiver and running back as a contingency plan, started the opening three games of last year after starting once as a freshman in 2002.
Costa mopped up a few times in a season where he completed 30 of 76 passes for 362 yards and four touchdowns.
Costa missed last night’s practice because of family matters. He is expected to return today.
O’Hara, a redshirt sophomore, started against Purdue but never got back on the field under center, instead catching a pass as a receiver against Arizona State in the season finale.
“I am confident I can play quarterback at this level. I am excited for the chance,” O’Hara said. “I have to prove I can be a leader of this team and I can lead the offense, that I can lead the team down field and score points and the team knows they can look at me to make plays. I have to make plays at the right time.”
Kovalcheck, a redshirt freshman, proved he was accurate this spring, but he still has some ground to make up.
Whoever emerges as the starter throughout fall camp better make the decision easy on the coaches.
“The starter should not be close,” Canales said. “If it is close, we are going to go with the guy who is the most consistent.”
CHECKING OUT THE QBs
UA offensive coordinator Mike Canales is looking at four quarterbacks in the preseason, hoping one clearly emerges at No. 1:
• Kris Heavner: “His competitiveness right now sets him apart. He really competes and he is poised at times when we put some pressure on him. He is a true competitor that will help out.”
• Ryan O’Hara: “He is a playmaker, he makes plays.”
• Nic Costa: “Has playmaking skills. He is one of the best players we can get on the field somewhere.”
• Richard Kovalcheck: “Very smart and understands what we are looking for and gets us in good plays.”
Training camp schedule
• Today: Practice, 5:45 p.m., Rincon Vista Complex
• Tomorrow: Practice, 5:45 p.m., Rincon Vista Complex
UA FOOTBALL NOTES
Rain-delayed practice features speed
By JOHN MOREDICH
The University of Arizona football team’s first preseason practice was delayed by rain and lightning, but once the players hit the field it was full speed ahead.
With the key words full speed.
“We were out there moving quick, wow,” Arizona safety Darrell Brooks said last night. “That is what we focused on all during the summertime, getting faster.
“It showed. Coach (Mike) Stoops likes running a fast defense and a fast offense. We are out here with a high intensity level and we are out here to make plays.”
Most players were stuck on a bus outside the Rincon Vista Complex gates, waiting for weather conditions to improve.
The wait lasted about an hour. Then coaches turned around the bus and headed to McKale Center for walk-through drills.
“I was going crazy on the bus,” tailback Mike Bell said. “I was excited on the bus to get going. I had to stand up. I felt like I was in a psycho ward.”
While Bell was itching to get going, offensive linemen were feeling uncomfortable, having put on uniforms and knee braces before boarding the bus.
Defensive end Marcus Smith and buddies made the most of the time by having a few laughs.
“It was fun on the bus,” Smith said. “We were telling jokes and impersonating different people on the team and the coaches and telling lines from movies.”
Once rain subsided, the players moved to the outdoor practice facility, and there was no messing around as the team went through a 1 1/2 workout in shorts and helmets.
There was no standing around.
“You could tell we are much further along than at any time this spring,” Stoops said. “The kids move with a lot more snap. It looks like we understand what we are doing a little better.
“I was happy with the overall performance on both sides of the ball. We obviously have a long way to go, but this team is on the right track.”
Good first impression
If true freshmen defensive backs wanted to make a statement early, they did.
Cornerbacks B.J. Dennard and Antoine Cason, free safety Dominic Patrick and strong safety Michael Klyce all caught Stoops’ eye.
“That is the hardest part (for young players), understanding the urgency and how fast the game really is,” Stoops said. “You can see we have some very talented freshmen.
“I like all four of our DBs. They are all quality football players. Those were the guys I saw the most of (yesterday) because I spent a lot of time with the secondary.”
Transfer Dramayne McElroy, a junior from Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., did not see action.
McElroy is waiting for paperwork that clears him to practice, Stoops said.
“I wanted to see Dramayne out there,” Stoops said. “I think he has a chance to be a great playmaker for us.
Not reporting were linebacker Marquell Stinson, defensive backs Gainus Scott and Brent Bolden, defensive tackle Jeremy Willoughby, linebacker Justin Stewart and junior college transfer Byron Smith because they quit or fell into academic difficulties.
Stoops is not talking about such players.
“If they are not here, they are not here,” he said.
PHOTO CAPTION: RENEE BRACAMONTE/Tucson Citizen
University of Arizona quarterback Kris Heavner steps back in the pocket in last night’s practice.