After a day off, Arizona returned to the practice field on Sunday and once again focused on trying to improve in the red zone. But only one side was particularly crispy.
The Wildcat defense owned the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 periods, keeping touchdowns to a minimum and forcing plenty of sellouts and offloads. That performance was promising for a unit that was third-worst in the FBS in red-zone TD percentage in 2021, while disheartening for an offense that had just 12 TDs in 39 trips inside the line. 20 meters from the opponent a year ago.
“I think our defense has done a phenomenal job of really owning the red zone right now,” the UA tight ends coach said. Jordan Paopao said afterwards. “I think the competition has been outstanding both ways. And knowing that our defense is so passionate, energetic and focused on stopping the red zone will only make us better too.
Sixth-year senior defensive end Jalen Harris was all over team drills, while junior wide receiver Jamarye Carpenter had a few TD catches and looks like he’s fully recovered from third foot surgery that caused him to miss the spring ball.
Monday will be the last practice before the full pads are added on Tuesday, at which time a much better assessment can be made of the red zone offense. And when it comes to how tight ends are used there, Paopao said it’s all about maximizing their size.
“Honestly, these are just contested takes,” he said. “When you’re covered by a linebacker from Mike or you have one cover, it’s not really covered. You have to make sure you work to separate and use your body to protect the defenders. That’s what I’d like to see, we keep growing, and we’ve made a few games there. It was pretty cool to see.
Added second year Alex Lines“You’re a lot bigger than most of the guys guarding you, so I think that’s the most important thing in the red zone.”
Tight Ends Count Expectations
Despite much talk about positional involvement in offense, Arizona tight ends only recorded 16 catches in 2021. That was on just 30 targets, which is less than 7% of attempts assists last season.
Why should 2022 be any different? Two words: Keyan Burnet.
The 4-star prospect has been a big presence on offense since arriving on campus in January, having a strong spring that has set the stage for an even better training camp so far.
“It was cool to be able to see him understand why he does things,” Paopao said. “He took a long time (in the spring) just trying to figure out where to meet and what to do. The big focus for the spring was what, and now we can focus on why we’re doing it, and that’s where you start to see that next step, that next evolution to be a better player, to play faster.
The 6-foot-5 Burnett was used more as a receiver than a tight end at Servite High School in Anaheim, Calif., where he was catching passes from an UA freshman. Noah Fifita. He said he knew he could do it in college, but his goal is to play more like the position he was recruited for, and in that regard, he said he added 16 pounds to weigh 240 at the camp entrance.
“At the end of the day, I want to be a real tight end online,” he said. “That’s why I’m here, it’s to be a tight end.”
Paopao said Burnett, Lines and junior walk-on Tanner McLachlan, a transfer from Southern Utah, are the first three tight ends at this point. As for how many catches he expects from this group, or at least how often they will be targeted, the position coach admitted that is above his pay grade.
“I’d be lying if I said I don’t want more targets for tight ends, and we’re always going to make sure we keep working on our ability to catch passes,” he said. “It’s always going to be a really, really big focal point. But the best thing about playing tight end position is (it will be) a position where you can get 10 catches in a game, in a game you can get two targets. So being able to control that ultimately won’t be up to us anymore. We just want to make sure we affect play. So if we’re asked for a run block, we want to make sure we’re proud of our block running and it’s done in a dominant way. If it’s pass protection, we’re going to pass to protect our butt, make sure we’re using ourselves to the best of our abilities. And if it’s this is one of those great games where you get 15 targets, 10 catches…”