New year, new Wildcats.
Almost four months after the 11th loss of the 2021 season, Arizona has returned to the field for spring football and have a whole different attitude.
“We had a heck of a practice today,” head coach Jedd Fisch said Monday. “I thought it was fun, it was energetic, it was spirited. We accomplished a lot of what we wanted to get done.”
Improving the overall team performance is a goal set by Fisch, but one area that needed the most attention after last year was the offense.
In Fisch’s first season, Arizona averaged 17.2 points per game, which ranked 124th out of 130 teams in the country. Following the 2021 season, the Wildcats spent a large amount of time recruiting at the high school level and in the transfer portal.
Now after a couple practices, the new players on the offensive side have begun to display the effort put in.
“We tried to attack the sidelines and really try to use the skill we brought in,” Fisch said. “All the skill guys today played really well and made some plays.”
Players earning early praise from Fisch include returning sophomore wide receiver Dorian Singer as well as some new freshmen in tight end Keyan Burnett and running back Jonah Coleman, all continuing to help elevate their respective positions.
Another new name within the skill group is junior wide receiver Jacob Cowing, who has been amazed with the program since transferring in early January.
“It’s been a a great journey so far and I’m excited to be here,” Cowing said. “The tempo of the practice has been outstanding. … It’s just a fun environment to be around every day here.”
Cowing, who went to Maricopa High School, spent his first three seasons at UTEP, accumulating 141 receptions, 2,595 yards and 14 total touchdowns. His decision to come back to his home state was primarily influenced by Fisch and Cowing’s two-year-old son.
“I wanted to be closer to him and coach Fisch knew that. He also knows my goals that I want to do after college,” Cowing said. “Having those great conversations and building up that relationship with him really just made it feel like this was the right place for me.”
Improvement at the skill positions is substantial for the offense, but there is one position that will always rule over others.
The quarterback competition has been Fisch’s biggest challenge since he took over last season. Monday’s practice was the most impressed Fisch has been so far.
“I think the quarterbacks probably had their best day,” Fisch said. “Jordan McCloud probably had his best day. (Will) Plummer threw a couple touchdown passes which was great to see coming back off being a little banged up.”
While the returning quarterbacks have shined early on, it’s been the new guys that have been the highlight of spring practice. Transfer quarterback Jayden de Laura is one of the two.
“Jayden’s doing a good job. He is in practice five of a new system, which is completely different than the system he played in previously, and I think he hasn’t skipped a beat,” Fisch said. “He’s very willing to throw the ball downfield, he has some good juice on the ball across the middle, he moves well with his feet and I’m excited where he’s at.”
A couple months removed from starting 12 games in 2021 at Washington State, de Laura has joined Arizona and has taken a lead role in the starting job competition, calling plays with the offensive starters in Monday’s practice.
“He’s running with the ones right now because that’s where he deserves to be, how he’s playing, how he’s prepared and what he’s done in the past,” “When you look at what Jayden has done, he’s a 17-game starter in the Pac-12, he’s the Pac-12 freshman of the year … He’s picked up our system well.”
As de Laura seems to continue to lead the way as the starting quarterback, one quarterback quietly continues to shine a light on the future. Three-star recruit Noah Fifita has begun showcasing what he can bring to the Wildcats and is catching the eyes of his teammates.
“That dude’s a baller,” Cowing said. “He comes out here ready to work each and every day. He’s super comfortable in the pocket, steps up, makes accurate throws, understands coverages … He has a bright future here at U of A and he can go really far.”
Fisch has committed to not announcing any starters so early into the new season but should have an entertaining competition with all four quarterbacks.
Even with uncertainty at various positions and with several months before the opening game, the optimism within the Wildcats locker room is high heading into 2022.