When the Arizona Wildcats wrapped up Tuesday’s practice, the players — with the exception of one position group — began trickling off Kindall/Sancet field one by one.
As the rest of the team made its way back to the locker room, the wide receivers stayed back and kept working.
Position coach Tony Dews has his group going back to the basics.
“Any time you’re struggling, you go back and look at the fundamentals,” Dews said. “Are they doing the fundamentals and technique stuff that you’re teaching?”
The simple answer to that complicated question right now for the UA’s wideouts is no.
Through four games, only one receiver — Garic Wharton — has more than 100 receiving yards. No one on the UA’s roster has 10 or more catches.
Quarterback B.J. Denker has completed passes to eight players, three of whom are running backs.
The Wildcats rank 119th of 123 FBS teams in passing efficiency; just two of the team’s 16 offensive touchdowns have come through the air.
“Right now I think we can use all the time we can get and work to fix what we haven’t been doing right,” sophomore David Richards said. “We try not to pay attention to some of the criticism, but we know what we’re not doing as a receiving group.”
So what exactly can the UA’s receivers do to get back on track and help out Denker more? Here’s a closer look:
1. Create separation at the line of scrimmage and get open quicker. It’s a basic rule of thumb Dews has reminded his group of a lot the last few days.
“If you can’t get release at the line of scrimmage, you can’t do anything,” Dews said.
With Arizona’s passing game struggling, opposing defenses are bringing their safeties down closer to the line of scrimmage and leaving the cornerbacks to cover the receivers one on one.
The opposing corners are getting in the receivers’ faces at the line of scrimmage and making them beat them off the line.
So far, they haven’t.
The UA’s receivers are getting jammed at the line, Dews said, and not doing enough to get open for Denker.
Of the five receivers who have caught passes this season, only one — Terrence Miller — stands more than 6 feet tall.
“Sometimes those little fellas are a little bit physically challenged out there on the edge,” Dews said.
2. Get the veterans involved. One of the only bigger, more physical receivers on the UA’s roster is Miller. Listed at 6-4 and 233 pounds, Miller should be able to create some space at the line of scrimmage and provide a big target for Denker.
But the Moreno Valley, Calif., native has just three catches this season. Some of that has to do with his position: When tight end Michael Cooper left the team during fall camp, Miller shifted to his position. So far this season, Miller has seen as much time at tight end as he has at receiver.
“We’re doing a lot with Terrence; playing him tight inside and then both inside the slot and outside,” coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Sometimes I worry if we’re doing too much.”
Miller said he is enjoying the different roles, but it seems like it’s hurt his productivity.
“It would be a lie for me to say it’s not tough, but it’s something that I look forward to every week,” Miller said.
While Wharton leads the team with 117 yards and is second with eight catches, Rodriguez would like to see the offense take advantage of the junior’s speed even more.
“Wharton has been OK, but he’s one of our fastest guys, so we’ve got to try to get the ball to him a little more,” the coach said.
3. Get healthy — and stay healthy. The Wildcats have been without their
No. 1 threat, Austin Hill, who is recovering from ACL surgery. He may or may not return this season.
Otherwise, the UA is relatively healthy at receiver now that Richards has rejoined the group. The sophomore missed the first three games of the season recovering from offseason foot surgery and returned against Washington.
Like Miller, Richards — at 6-4 and 214 pounds — can create some space at the line. He didn’t have a catch against the Huskies, and Rodriguez said he “looked like a guy who hadn’t played in eight months.”
But when he’s fully healthy and back in the mix, Richards should provide a boost to a group that needs it.
“I think I can do a range of things, but it’s not about me, it’s about the team and each receiver doing what they need to do,” Richards said.
“As long as I’m doing what I need to be doing, and the guys next to me are doing what they need to be doing, I think we’ll be good as a receivers group.”