Arizona remains dissatisfied with ending of 2017 season, but Wildcats aren’t dwelling on it

August 7, 2018

At every turn, Arizona has been touting its “New Era” of football. The program is under new leadership. It is headed in a new direction.

But the Wildcats who were part of last year’s team haven’t forgotten how the season ended. Arizona was 6-2 at the end of October. The Wildcats finished 7-6.

That final record represented a four-win improvement from the previous season. It also left a sense of dissatisfaction.

Senior cornerback Jace Whittaker surveyed his defensive teammates about it during the offseason. He disclosed his findings Monday.

“We won some games. We got to a bowl game. But we all wanted to be in the championship,” Whittaker said. “I got that from everybody. That’s what we’re working on.”

Although they essentially started with a fresh slate when Kevin Sumlin succeeded Rich Rodriguez in January, the returning Wildcats knew what their deficiencies were. With the start of the 2018 season less than a month away, they’re striving for improvement on both sides of the ball.

Communication has been a major point of emphasis on defense.

“Echoing things,” Whittaker said. “Even though it’s said by one person, relaying it back by saying it again.”

Arizona allowed 34.4 points per game last season, an improvement of almost four points from the previous year. It wasn’t good enough, per Whittaker.

“Nobody liked that,” he said.

The defense was particularly leaky down the stretch. The Wildcats lost four of their final five games. They surrendered more than 40 points in three of those defeats.

In the spring practices that were open for media observation, the defense generally got the better of the offense. That was partially attributable to the defense’s familiarity with its scheme; Sumlin retained coordinator Marcel Yates, who’s entering his third season.

Meanwhile, on offense, Arizona had to learn a new system. Growing pains were inevitable.

The offense has made considerable progress since then, tailback J.J. Taylor said. He described the start of spring practice as follows: “It was more getting into everything.” And the start of training camp? “Now we’re just clicking.”

Taylor said the tempo with which the offense has been able to operate has surprised him.

“We’re moving super-fast for the first three practices,” Taylor said.

The redshirt sophomore agreed with the sentiment Whittaker relayed about 2017. Nobody was particularly happy about the way it ended.

“If someone were to say the season was good … we could do better,” Taylor said. “We’re trying to win every game, not just some.”

UA hasn’t forgotten late-season losses to USC, Oregon, Arizona State and Purdue.

The latter two were games they could have — or even should have — won.

But Whittaker also stressed the importance of moving on. A New Era beckons.

“It’s all about putting in the work now,” Whittaker said. “You can’t dwell on those type of things. Nobody likes the taste of that. At (some) point you’ve got to leave that behind.”

‘I take it as a blessing’

Whittaker is playing for his fourth cornerbacks coach in as many years.

As a freshman, he had David Lockwood. As a sophomore, it was Donté Williams. As a junior, it was Yates (who’s now coaching linebackers). As a senior, it’s Demetrice Martin.

Is it difficult to essentially start over each season?

“It is,” Whittaker said, “but I take it as a blessing. Each coach has something good, has something positive.”

Whittaker said Martin is “real technical” in the film room and is willing to spend extra time with players if they need it. Yates also remains a resource.

“His door’s always open,” Whittaker said.

Extra points

Whittaker, who’s 5-11, said he’s added 20 pounds since last season. He played at 170; he’s now 190.Taylor’s biggest offseason goal was to get faster. “I was tired of getting caught from behind,” he said. “It just sucks. You get out there and you’re just like, ‘Dang, I coulda had it.’ “Receiver Darick Holmes Jr. is no longer with the program. The former three-star recruit, who had offers from other Pac-12 schools, did not accumulate any stats in his three seasons in Tucson.Linebacker Jacob Colacion returned to practice after missing the first two days.Veterans not spotted on the field during the open portion of practice included defensive tackle Kurtis Brown and offensive lineman Alex Kosinski.Multiyear starters Layth Friekh and Nathan Eldridge continued to work with the third offensive line unit. Friekh must sit out the first two games because of an NCAA ruling; Eldridge is working his way back after missing time in spring.ESPN.com released a ranking of the top 50 players in college football. UA quarterback Khalil Tate landed at No. 19. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver of Houston, which hosts Arizona on Sept. 8, is No. 1, followed by Stanford tailback Bryce Love.The Wildcats worked out in shoulder pads for the first time in camp. The offensive linemen wore knee supports, as is customary.The team shifted practice to the morning to avoid any possibility of the workout being rained out. The temperature was 101 when the portion open to the media ended at 10:45 a.m.Former UA offensive lineman Jacob Alsadek has signed with Phoenix of the new Alliance of American Football.

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