Arizona Wildcats defensive end JB Brown has been a consistent force during spring practice, regularly penetrating the backfield or wrecking running plays. He’s among the players who have earned “Desert Dude” status from defensive coordinator Don Brown.
Early on in camp, for a brief moment, JB Brown let his emotions get the better of him. The defense wasn’t supposed to tackle during a drill, but Brown took a running back to the ground. He was admonished for it and snapped back at UA coach Jedd Fisch, who ordered him off the practice field.
What happened next speaks to what Fisch is trying to accomplish at Arizona beyond the win-loss column.
After the period ended, Fisch talked with Brown for a couple of minutes. From afar, Fisch seemed calm yet resolute. Brown listened and nodded. He returned to drills and hasn’t been involved in a similar incident since.
“Each situation’s a little bit different,” Fisch said Thursday. “I went over (this) the other day in our team meeting: You throw a punch and you’re off the practice field, because if you throw a punch in a game, you’re off the game field. You chirp in practice, maybe you get a penalty, maybe you get taken out.
“We have to just continue to build relationships and trust and respect with one another and recognize that there’s a difference between the heat of the battle and what you should do. If you do the right thing in the heat of the battle, you’re able to still stay composed. ... That’s probably what I talked to him about.”
In a micro sense, it’s about being able to stay on the field for the next play and the one after that. Despite Brown’s return after he opted out in 2020, Arizona doesn’t have great depth at defense end.
In a macro sense, it’s about carrying yourself as a professional, no matter what you end up doing with your life. That’s been a theme since Fisch became coach in late December.
“We always talk to our players about the accountability mirror,” Fisch said. “You have to look yourself in the mirror before you go to sleep and say, ‘Did I do the right thing ... today?’ If I did, then so be it. If I didn’t, we need to be better.”
Fisch considers it his and his staff’s duty to help steer players in the right direction. To that end, he has instituted the “We Educate Wednesday” program featuring speakers from all walks of life.
One of the speakers last week, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, specifically addressed the idea of being a pro.
“It has always helped our guys to remember that everything you do counts,” Carroll said. “What that means is, as coaches, we’re going to watch you in every way that we can. We’re gonna try to learn everything we can about you ... because everything you do tells us something.”
Fisch, Lloyd ‘together’
Timing is everything, right?
When new UA men’s basketball coach Tommy Lloyd was introduced Thursday, the event took place at McKale Center with most of the pomp and circumstance worthy of such an occasion.
Fisch’s introduction to Tucson happened in a conference room at the New England Patriots’ practice facility via Zoom. The COVID-19 pandemic was in full force, and in-person news conferences were forbidden on the UA campus for safety reasons.
“It was so different,” Fisch recalled. “My press conference was ... across the hall from Coach (Bill) Belichick while he was getting ready for a team meeting. My family was on a Zoom call. You didn’t get to experience the same thing as you had always dreamt of experiencing.
“But (by) the same token, your phone is just going crazy. And you had the excitement and energy of, ‘This is the day you hoped for — the day you dreamt of when you got involved in this profession.’ And I know from listening to (Lloyd’s) message at the press conference he felt the same way.”
Fisch and Lloyd talked Wednesday night and again Thursday. Fisch views their journeys as the same — taking over programs full of tradition and potential and seeing where they can take them.
“I told him, ‘I’m a crafty vet. I’ve been here four months. So anything you need to know, I probably can help you,’” Fisch said. “But he was great. We’re really excited to do this thing together.”
Arizona is set to hold its second full scrimmage at Arizona Stadium on Saturday night. If you’re planning to attend, here are three things to look out for:
1. Fisch typically will meet with quarterbacks to relay play calls.
Unlike the NFL, QBs don’t have radios in their helmets. Fisch and his staff are still working on a signaling system.
“We’ve got to be able to use signals, wristbands and everything in between,” Fisch said. “Right now I don’t really want to spend too much time asking our quarterbacks to learn signals, because there’s so much stuff they actually have to learn. We’ll deal with that in the summertime and in fall camp.”
2. Sacks are subjective.
Defensive players aren’t allowed to hit the quarterbacks. Fisch decides whether to stop a play when they’re in close proximity of each other.
“I showed our guys (recently) 10 plays that looked like they would be sacks, and all 10 of them were touchdowns in the NFL,” Fisch said. “So it’s very hard to determine what’s a sack and what’s not. If I see a free runner, an unblocked man, I’ll stop the play. Anytime the quarterback pulls it in a zone-read play, we just stop it right away. But I feel like I have a pretty good feel.”
3. Fisch has little tolerance for penalties “that don’t have anything to do with the game of football.”
“False starts, defensive offsides, 12 men on the field, illegal celebrations,” Fisch said. “Holdings are going to happen. Pass interference is going to happen. ... But any pre-snap penalties, pre-snap protocols, those are the ones that give me the most fits.”
- The defensive line had a particularly strong practice Thursday. Defensive end Jalen Harris had a pair of sacks in 11-on-11 work. Brown, Trevon Mason, Kyon Barrs and Paris Shand also made plays in the backfield.
- Linebacker Derick Mourning intercepted a Gunner Cruz pass that was tipped at the line.
- Quarterback Will Plummer had two impressive downfield throws — one a touchdown to tightly covered tight end Stacey Marshall in the back of the end zone, the other a corner route to Boobie Curry, who made a diving catch to snag the ball.
- Although the defense generally had the better of the action, Fisch was pleased with the way the offense bounced back after negative plays. He’s still seeking more consistency from the quarterbacks.
- Stanley Berryhill III continues to be the hardest receiver to cover in one-on-ones and team drills. His highlight play Thursday: a one-handed grab on a pass over the middle.
- Receiver Brian Casteel spent time on the side riding an exercise bike but was heavily involved and frequently targeted during team drills.
- Tight end Roberto Miranda and defensive backs Isaiah Mays and Rhedi Short remained limited. Mays did line up with the second-team defense during non-tackling 11-on-11 play.
- Tailbacks Jalen John and Michael Wiley and offensive linemen Josh McCauley and David Watson were among the players who did not participate in team drills. Wiley did some work in individual drills
- Former UA star Ricky Elmore and his wife, ex-Wildcat softball standout Callista Balko, attended practice. Former UA running back Gary Brightwell, who’s prepping for the upcoming NFL draft, also was among the attendees.
- Saturday’s scrimmage, which has been moved from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., is open to as many as 1,500 fans. The first 200 will receive a free Chick-fil-A sandwich.