No Wildcat has had more coaches than Josh McCauley; his newest one is teaching him a new position

Center Josh McCauley locks horns with another lineman during drills at Arizona Wildcats second day of spring practice at Lowell-Stevens, March 3, 2020, Tucson, Ariz.

When Arizona center Josh McCauley was asked how many offensive line coaches he’s had since joining the Wildcats as in 2016, he had to think for a few seconds.

McCauley tilted his head up and pondered for a few seconds before responding with the correct answer — five, or one for nearly every season he’s played for the Wildcats.

No player on the UA’s roster has had more position coaches than McCauley, who played for Jim Michalczik, Garin Justice, Joe Gilbert, Kyle DeVan and now Brennan Carroll, Arizona’s O-line coach and offensive coordinator. The Wildcats’ running backs have also had five coaches between 2017-21, but the most veteran player at the position is Bam Smith, who didn’t arrive on campus until 2018.

McCauley operated under multiple faces between the time he was a baby-faced freshman until now, a red-bearded super senior taking part in his fifth spring practice leading up to the April 24 spring game. McCauley said he’s learned “little things here and there” from each coach, but noted Carroll’s methods are slightly different.

Start with the positions. Centers aren’t just centers anymore.

“We need guys with versatility, guys that can play multiple positions — right side, left side, guard, tackle, center, guard, whatever we need,” said Carroll. “We’re going to put the best five guys who can out there, and we hate to get stuck behind, ‘Well, he’s this position, that position.’ A bunch of guys are bouncing around the line right now. For that purpose, we want to be able to use any combination we need.”

Willingness to learn two positions is a prerequisite for Carroll. McCauley has alternated between center and guard during spring ball, and works closely with freshmen Josh Baker and JT Hand.

“Coach Carroll has done a great job moving everybody around,” McCauley said. “Everybody is playing all over and I think that’s really important for O-Linemen, because you come in and work at a different position every single day. I think it’s a great way to learn the offense better, because you can understand the big picture of what’s happening, not just one position — ‘What do I have to do on this play at that position?’ kind of thing.”

Added McCauley: “You get to learn how to work with the 16 guys we have now, so I think it’s really good for us. … Everybody is moving around and it’s fun, because you get to play next to somebody new every day.”

Head coach Jedd Fisch has noted better offensive line play of late, specifically the centers.

“The center is the director, so the center is making those calls, the center is deciding where to slide the protection and learn how to make a certain block with a certain (defensive) front,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a bigger jump for a guy like JT Hand than it is necessarily for a Josh McCauley, right, because of experience. But they’re doing well.”

Fisch and Carroll share an NFL background, where they worked alongside centers who excelled at the position. Fisch’s top centers were the New England Patriots’ David Andrews, Los Angeles Rams’ Austin Blythe and John Sullivan and former UCLA standout Scott Quessenberry. With the Seahawks, Carroll’s impactful centers were Justin Britt and Ethan Pocic.

While he was in Seattle, Carroll learned first-hand how important positional versatility can be. The Seahawks were out of centers heading into a matchup with the Cardinals when Carroll discovered that guard Damien Lewis played center at the junior-college level. The coach shifted him over.

“They can come from anywhere. If you can get the ball to the quarterback, we’ll use you at center,” said Carroll.

Getting the ball to the quarterback has also been a growing pain during spring ball. Fisch’s pro-style offense requires the quarterback to periodically take snaps from under center. Per McCauley, the shotgun formation has been in his playbook for as long as he could remember playing football. In Rich Rodriguez’s and Noel Mazzone’s spread offenses, quarterbacks were always five yards behind center for every play.

“I’ve never done it before, but I love it,” McCauley said of quarterbacks coach under center. “It’s a new thing to learn, and it’s an interesting thing for me to have to do and transform and adjust to a different style of play. Even in high school … it was always shotgun and the only time we ever went under center was for QB sneak or victory formation.”

You’d think a quarterback taking snaps under center would make McCauley’s job easier, but the exchanges were awkward initially. Quarterbacks Gunner Cruz and Will Plummer come from shotgun offenses, making things even tougher.

Still, Fisch noted that “it’s getting better every day.”

“It’s a huge difference from the first day; a huge difference,” Fisch said. “You watch the quarterbacks the first day and they’re having their hands completely underneath the center and just hoping to get the ball and then as we continue to get more confident, we slide back further, further, further and start living on the raggedy edge a little bit, which is good.”

Thankfully for Arizona, the Wildcats have until their Sept. 4 season opener to resolve any snapping issues.

“We’re progressing,” McCauley said. “We’re not where we need to be by any means but we’re getting better every day. That’s our goal, just come in here and get better every time — 1% better every day.”

Extra points

  • Wide receiver Brian Casteel caught a pair of touchdowns during team offense on Tuesday, including a 60-yard score from Cruz.
  • Defensive coordinator Don Brown named his top performers — aka “Desert Dudes” — from last week’s practices: “Viper” Christian Young, defensive tackle Kyon Barrs, cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace and defensive end Paris Shand. Defensive linemen Jalen Harris and junior-college transfer Alex Navarro-Silva were named “Desert Guys,” a tier below dudes.
  • Defensive lineman Trevon Mason returned from a minor injury on Tuesday.
  • Fisch has moved the Wildcats’ Saturday’ scrimmage from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The scrimmage is free and open to the public. The coach said he’s hoping “to get all 1,500 (allowed) seats filled for that one.”