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Rich Rodriguez news conference: Five talking points

Rob Hankins

Rob Hankins is one of the young linebackers Arizona is counting on this season. Photo by Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

The Arizona Wildcats reported to football camp on Wednesday afternoon, gearing up for the first preseason practice on Thursday.

Rich Rodriguez met with the media to discuss his first season at Arizona, and while there wasn’t any huge breaking news, here are five items of note from his news conference as the Cats get ready to hit the field and begin “the grind” as the coach put it:

1. Linebacker depth

Arizona opens camp with junior Jake Fischer at an outside position, a pair of sophomores (Rob Hankins, Hank Hobson) and a true freshman (C.J. Dozier) who enrolled early and went through spring ball.

Other than that, it’s walk-ons and true freshman about to get thrown into the deep end of the pool.

“That’s certainly our thinnest position and there are some areas of concern,” Rodriguez said.

“There are going to be guys we have to push to get ready sooner than they may be ready for. Jake Fischer is the only guy who has a lot of experience. Outside of Jakes, it’s kind of a wide-open deal.

“We have concerns, but what we have what we have, and hopefully these freshmen will grow up in a hurry.”

Speaking of freshmen …

2. The newbies

Rodriguez said the back seven on defense (or in Arizona’s case, the back eight) is where there is a prime opportunity for a freshman to make an impact.

A couple of early guesses for newcomers to watch: linebacker Dakota Conwell and safety William Parks.

“The first week of practice, we’ll rep just about everybody and take a peek at everybody” Rodriguez said.

“After about a week and a half or so, we’ll start to pare down a little it. Typically, you’d like to get the point where you are so good, so talented, that other than the rare extremely talented freshman, most of them are probably going to be redshirted.

“But for us, it should help us in recruiting for the next few years. There is going to be a lot of opportunity for young kids to come in.”

3. Fort Huachuca

Continuing a tradition established by former head coach Mike Stoops, the Wildcats will spend part of fall camp at Fort Huachuca, the Army post near Sierra Vista.

“I haven’t heard a single negative thing about it,” Rodriguez said.

The Cats leave next Wednesday afternoon, practice for a few days, capped by a closed Saturday night scrimmage, and return the next afternoon.

“To truly get a camp-type atmosphere, we need to go out of town,” Rodriguez said.

This will be a first for Rodriguez, who never took his West Virginia or Michigan teams off campus for fall camp, instead putting the players together in a hotel or a dorm.

“We did it when I was at Tulane as an assistant way back when,” Rodriguez said. “We did it for the first couple of weeks and took them away to a small, private school for camp. I thought it was the best thing we did.”

Rodriguez said the team would have left earlier for Fort Huachuca but needed to wait until some players finished up the second session of summer school.

4. Jack Baucus

The redshirt junior, who has been an H-back, tight end and an offensive lineman, is facing the end of the road.

“His career may be over,” Rodriguez said.

Baucus has battled injuries through his career, and problems with his right knee (ACL, multiple surgeries) persisted through the offseason. If healthy, he might have provided help at tackle or tight end this season.

Outside of Baucus and safety Adam Hall (likely out for the season because of a spring torn ACL), the Wildcats don’t appear to have other major health concerns as camp opens.

5. The depth chart

Don’t get hung up on the initial depth chart. It wasn’t very instructive anyway, with 15 positions listed with “OR” between potential starters.

“I want our kids to compete for jobs,” Rodriguez said. “If they have played in the past, that’s good, that should help them. But we’re kind of starting all over. Clean slate. People have to earn their spots.”

Also from the news conference: Arizona no longer pursuing Penn State transfers

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