The first season of the Jedd Fisch era at Arizona went predictably rough. The Wildcats endured lows — including one historic low with a non-conference loss to FCS Northern Arizona — and finished just 1-11.
But a few close losses, like a late-season tilt with Utah, offer building blocks for 2022. What's more, the new coaching staff landed one of the best recruiting classes in program history.
Arizona will be young once again, but there's some momentum for the Wildcats in their second season under Fisch.
5 Storylines to Watch During Arizona's Spring Practice
1. The quarterback room
Among Arizona's more glaring issues in 2021 was inconsistent quarterback play. Jordan McCloud showed growth midway through when he suffered a season-ending injury. Will Plummer played the second half of the campaign with enough injuries that Fisch joked to Pac-12 Network Plummer was being held together with duct tape.
Depth won't be a concern for the position in 2022, as spring practices open with McCloud and Plummer returning and the addition of Washington State transfer Jayden de Laura adding a proven veteran. De Laura passed for 23 touchdowns last season for the Cougars.
2. A blue chip for Red-and-Blue
Five-star wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan was the centerpiece of Arizona's standout signing class, and the Servite product jumped right in as an early enrollee. Michael Lev of the Arizona Daily Star reports McMillan was an immediate standout during the first day of spring practices.
With the Wildcats losing their most productive offensive weapon from a season ago, Stanley Berryhill, McMillan will have an opportunity to become the No. 1 option right away.
3. Johnny on the spot
Fisch's hire of seasoned defensive coordinator Don Brown was a key piece to the first-year coach's staff, but Brown received the opportunity to return to head coaching at UMass. With Brown gone, Johnny Nansen was tabbed to coordinate the 2022 defense.
Nansen brings a bevy of Pac-12 experience, most recently coaching with Chip Kelly at UCLA, but has never been a coordinator at the college level. His first crack at the position comes at a program that has struggled on that side of the ball consistently since the Desert Swarm days of the '90s, save a resurgence in the mid-2000s with Mark Stoops as coordinator.
Brown's side played hard, but lacked the depth to stand up to the Pac's better offenses.
4. Line play
Developing a more physical and deeper line on both sides of the ball is going to be a pivotal storyline for Arizona throughout the offseason. The Wildcats had the nation's worst turnover margin in 2021, a byproduct of generating inconsistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks; and ranked in the bottom third nationally for sacks allowed. While not entirely an offensive line stat, the Wildcats need beefing up on the front line.
5. Nowhere to go but up?
It's hard to have a more trying last two-and-a-half years than Arizona endured. Finishing 2019 on a disastrous, seven-game losing skid, going winless in the COVID season with a historically ugly loss to rival Arizona State, then losing 11 including the NAU game in 2021 truly made for the worst on-field stretch in program history.
Fisch and his staff have made strides in terms of roster-building, and the general buzz about the program seems to have turned dramatically from the precipitous decline of Kevin Sumlin's abbreviated tenure, but the Wildcats will be expected to show results sooner than later.
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