Arizona wrapped up its first spring practice under Rich Rodriguez on Monday, the final evaluation for the coaches and a chance for them to offer instruction on what to do in the summer, when workouts turn voluntary.
And if you believe that any summer workouts in college football are voluntary …
Anyway, with everything so new, Arizona has been operating without a formal depth chart and likely will be until the team gets into the heart of fall camp.
Rodriguez’s typical answer to how a player or a position group has been doing has been a non-committal “OK.” But, taking cues from scrimmages and a few glimpses of praise from Rodriguez, here are three players who put themselves in good position for August camp.
1. FS Jared Tevis
The sophomore walk-on from Canyon del Oro High School has the kind of feisty streak that Rodriguez loves. Tevis is undersized (5-10, 198) for the position but has little fear of using whatever he has, and he was one of the best defenders in each of the public scrimmages, usually playing with the first unit.
The ACL injury to safety Adam Hall in the spring game creates a wider net of opportunity for Tevis beyond just playing on special teams.
“One, he’s physical,” Rodriguez said in describing what he likes about Tevis.
“You can tell he loves playing the game. He’s a quick learner. And he’s eager to prove himself. I think all the guys are to some point, but Jared really has that kind of chip on his shoulder a little bit. He’s been one of the most consistent players we’ve had defensively. I’ve really been pleased with how he’s progressed so far.”
2. WR Tyler Slavin
Like Tevis, this is another case of where personal development intersects with opportunity.
Slavin was buried on the receiver depth chart last season, and even moved to defensive back for a spell, but the departure of four veterans cleaned out the top of the receiver group, and injuries further thinned the ranks this spring.
So, in steps Slavin, a sophomore who has good size (6-2, 200) and a growing on-field rapport with quarterback Matt Scott. Slavin caught five passes for 51 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game.
“You’ve got to show what you have when the opportunity is given,” Slavin said.
Slavin and receiver Austin Hill — they were high school teammates in Corona, Calif. — nearly played as true freshmen in 2010, but it was a good decision to redshirt both. While Hill somewhat emerged last season, he was held out of contact this spring because of a neck injury.
The knock on Slavin has been his consistency. If he solves that, the trio of Dan Buckner, Hill and Slavin help give the Cats a solid base at outside receiver.
3. CB Derrick Rainey
Plenty of candidates for this third spot, including walk-on receiver Johnny Jackson and true freshman linebacker C.J. Dozier, who enrolled early and put himself into position for playing time this fall with a productive spring.
More: Rodriguez never hesitated to laud junior linebacker Jake Fischer, who returned with encouraging skill and leadership from an ACL injury that wiped out his 2011 season.
But let’s go with Rainey, a junior who held down a starting spot all spring.
Part of that was because choices were severely limited — presumptive starter Jonathan McKnight wasn’t ready for contact as he continues rehab from an ACL injury, and sophomore Cortez Johnson decided to transfer midway through the spring.
Come the fall, a group of McKnight, returning starter Shaq Richardson and Rainey should make Arizona competitive at corner. McKnight was the team’s best cover man in fall camp last season before the injury. Richardson’s career has been up and down, but he has experience. Rainey, tall and lean (6-1, 183) has intriguing athleticism.
“He’s a lot faster than people think he is,” said receiver Garic Wharton, possibly the fastest player on the team.
“If he’s not fast, his acceleration is definitely top-notch. When I break, he’s definitely right there on my hip.”