New Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez says much of his first spring with the Wildcats will be about evaluation, and he’ll withhold judgment — and a depth chart — until the end of spring ball.
That won’t stop him from being eager to see, among others, linebacker Jake Fischer.
Fischer, who was one of five UA players who sat out last season because of a torn ACL, is a “full-go” for the spring, Rodriguez said Thursday.
“He’s worked so hard,” Rodriguez said.
“Without question, Jake Fischer is going to be one of our leaders defensively. I can see why the coaching staff missed him so much last year. He’s an athletic guy who is a tough guy. He’s a football player. I’m sure that was a huge loss.”
Fischer started as a sophomore in 2010, making 58 tackles, including 7.5 for loss. He suffered a torn ACL near the end of spring game.
Although depth is an issue at linebacker, Fischer and Akron transfer Brian Wagner — a graduate student who is the nation’s leading returning tackler — give the Wildcats a solid starting point. Rob Hankins and Hank Hobson played as true freshmen last season. Dame Ndiaye, a rangy, raw freshman who redshirted last season as a defensive end, is now listed at linebacker.
As for the other players returning from injury, safety Adam Hall — another potential leader on defense — “is doing everything now.” Running back Greg Nwoko and defensive tackle Willie Mobley should be able to do everything, or close to it, this spring, as well.
The fifth member of the ACL club, cornerback Jonathan McKnight, is on a later rehab schedule because he was hurt in fall camp. Rodriguez sounded encouraged by McKnight’s progress, saying he is “doing most of the stuff right now,” although the sophomore likely will be held out of scrimmage situations.
Other injury news: Starting left tackle Mickey Baucus underwent back surgery and will be limited this spring. “Hopefully, he’ll be ready for August,” Rodriguez said. Older brother Jack Baucus, who was moved from tight end to tackle last season, also will be limited this spring. Jack suffered from a variety of injuries last season.
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Rodriguez said he approved of the new kickoff rules that go into effect in 2012.
In an effort to reduce the violent collisions and injuries on kickoffs, the NCAA moved the kickoff from the 30-yard line to the 35, increasing the odds of a touchback. Additionally, members of the kick coverage team can be 5 yards behind the ball, not 10, reducing their running start.
“That is, without question, the most dangerous play in football,” Rodriguez said of the kickoff.
Touchbacks will not be marked at the 25-yard line, not the 20.
There has been some speculation that the new rules would encourage kickers to pooch the ball near the goal line, with the coverage team trying to make the tackle before the 25.
Rodriguez said he won’t mess with that strategy.
“I don’t know if we’re fast enough to get down there and cover it in time, especially with only a 5-yard start,” Rodriguez said.
Senior kicker John Bonano has a strong leg and recorded 22 touchbacks on 67 attempts last season.
“When the rule come in, I told him, ‘It’s the 35-yard line,’ and he had a big smile on his face,” Rodriguez said.
“I said, ‘So that means you’re going to kick every one through the end zone.’ He said, ‘I should be able to, Coach.’ I’ll take that every time.”
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Rodriguez confirmed that defensive linemen Sani Fuimaono and Aiulua Fanene — who aren’t listed on the spring roster — are on two-year church missions. They each indicated they intend to return to Arizona after their missions. … Safety Josh Robbins is unable to continue football because of a back injury. Robbins, from Canyon del Oro High School, redshirted in 2010 and missed last season because of injury. … Rodriguez said he would like to look into uniform changes, but it was too late to any tweaks for next season. … Rodriguez spoke recently to TucsonCitizen.com contributors Victor Rodriguez and Matt Minkus of the local 110SportsPodcast.com. Here is a link to the interview.