The Arizona Wildcats have exactly four weeks to get ready for their Sept. 1 opener against Toledo. That's 28 days to unearth key starters and unlikely contributors, lean on veteran leadership and - perhaps most importantly - formulate a plan.
Pencil in Shaquille Richardson as one of Arizona's (few) sure things.
The junior cornerback has emerged as an unlikely leader during the transition from coach Mike Stoops to Rich Rodriguez. Arizona's strength staff identified Richardson as one of the team's four most-in-shape players during spring drills. Over summer, the junior from Carson, Calif., took it upon himself to work with the newest Wildcats.
Asked to select players to speak for the program earlier in the week, Rodriguez chose Richardson and three others. Quarterback Matt Scott calls the cornerback "a good leader, on and off the field."
"He's clear and he's vocal," Scott said. "He's going to be one of the greatest leaders on this team."
Richardson's junior leadership is a far cry from some of his more infamous displays. The cornerback was kicked out of UCLA in 2009 after being charged, along with two of his teammates, with theft. Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon had his way with Richardson in last year's win over the UA in Stillwater, Okla. Even Richardson's bright moments were overshadowed by immaturity: The Pac-12 Conference suspended the cornerback for one game after he and a handful of teammates brawled with UCLA players during a nationally televised game from Arizona Stadium.
The arrival of Rodriguez's 3-3-5 "odd stack" defense, coupled with the maturity that comes with being an upperclassman, makes Richardson one of the UA's most compelling players heading into its season opener.
On how he's matured: "I've matured with my leadership - you know, helping everybody else out while helping myself out. Once you can teach something, that's how you know you've learned it the best. I've been practicing teaching all the young guys, and my leadership has grown a lot. Learning and teaching goes hand-in-hand."
On whether Rodriguez's hiring marked a fresh start: "You could say that. It was a fresh start for everybody. Do I feel like I needed a fresh start? No. But I think it's definitely a fresh start."
On what's changed the most: "It's an expectation level. There's a minimum, and the minimum has been raised. It's not OK to miss time, it's not OK to quit, it's not OK to give up, it's not OK to give in. You have to get everything you have, every chance you get. It started with the coaches. Then a handful of the players caught on, then it got contagious and spread to more players, then the rest of the team."
On the team's conditioning: "It's definitely a big difference. We've progressed so much, we've been focusing and working hard. We're working through our level of tiredness so it pushes our maximum limit."
On Arizona's new "odd stack" defense: "The defense is a lot different, too. … It's fast, and it hits you from a lot of different places."
On whether his role has changed: "Corner is the easiest position mentally, but the hardest physically. The basics are the basics. You have to do what you've got to do. … It's exciting. (Coaches) tell us about the stuff we haven't gotten into yet, and I'm so excited to get into it."
On StarNet: Go to azstarnet.com/wildcats for an interactive timeline of the Wildcats' football season, from current developments to the postseason. It will be updated as the season happens. Find the timeline under "More."
• What: Day 3 of UA's training camp
• When: 6-8 p.m.
• Where: Kindall/ Sancet Stadium. All practices are closed to the public.
Arizona wildcats training camp
Day 2 at Kindall/Sancet Stadium
• Temperature at start: 99 degrees
• Walk-on watch: Sir Thomas Jackson joined the team as a walk-on at the start of the 2011 season, then redshirted his first year in a Wildcats uniform. Jackson, a product of Seattle's O'Dea High School, could contribute at a thin linebacker position during camp.
• The big number: 4. Number of weeks until Arizona's Sept. 1 home opener against Toledo.