The arrival of Rich Rodriguez, Jeff Casteel and the rest of the coaching staff brought a new system and philosophy, both of which opened the door for numerous players who would have never gained playing time in the Mike Stoops' era.
One such player that not only forced his way into the rotation as a walk-on, but eventually started, was Sir Thomas Jackson.
The freshman finished sixth on the team in total tackles with 58 – five of which came behind the line of scrimmage – and collected 1.5 sacks. Jackson's performance was somewhat surprising to most fans, but he feels he has become an even better player since that point.
"I'm ten times better than I was last year I feel," Jackson said. "My body improved a lot, I put on more muscle -- like 10-15 pounds – I got quicker and improved, most importantly, my feel of the game and my mind."
Spring practice can be intense with position competition, but Jackson sees it differently. To the soon-to-be sophomore, the entire team is working together, even in the spring, to improve as a unit rather than individually.
"We're all trying to get better," Jackson said. "It's really not competition. It's spring ball. We're all working for one common goal: To get better as a team."
Jackson has had the benefit of playing alongside an experienced player in fellow linebacker Jake Fischer. The opportunity to line up next to Fischer has been huge for Jackson, who loves what his teammate brings to the field.
"It helps me a lot," Jackson said. "The intensity of the game, he brings everything out there. I feel like I owe him because he's a senior."
Improvement is something every quality football player strives for and while Jackson knows he has progressed as a player, there is one area he feels he needs to continue to improve in.
"My pass drops," Jackson said. "Going into coverage is where I want to improve the most."
After a year in the 3-3-5 scheme, Jackson has been able to evaluate where he stands as a player. His fundamentals have improved more than anything in his eyes and he has become stronger.
"I've improved my technique taking on blocks and being more physical," Jackson said.
The beginning of spring practice in 2012 was rough for virtually everyone on the Arizona roster. A year later and Jackson feels a lot better as the experience helped ease some of his nerves.
"Way more comfortable than last year," Jackson said. "It's like night and day now. I am more confident than I was last year. I was jittery and didn't want to mess up because I was starting as a walk-on."
With several months to go until the beginning of the 2013 season, Jackson understands there is still a long way to go for the team to be where it needs to be physically.
The linebacker sees playing in the heat as an advantage during the spring as it could help the team's physical preparation for the upcoming campaign.
"Get in better shape; all of us," Jackson said. "We're in good shape now, but we can take that next step to become the best in the Pac-12 with how much we work. So, we have to advance with everything.
"We got the sun out here; I'm not from here. I am from Seattle, Washington. We get rain all the time. So when I am out here in the spring and it's hot like this, I feel we can gain an advantage."