2012 Arizona Preview – Offense
Arizona WR Dan Buckner
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Arizona Wildcat Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What you need to know: Think Morgantown, with a better climate. New head coach Rich Rodriguez is in the embryonic stages of installing his read-option offense in Tucson. The system, so successful at West Virginia, yet not at Michigan, calls for the attack to flood the backfield with speed and explosiveness on the ground, including at quarterback. The staff caught a break that Matt Scott still had a year of eligibility left, ensuring a smoother-than-expected transition to an entirely new playbook. The quarterback might not run the ball as much as Rodriguez’s recent pupils behind center, but he’s athletic, experienced and can really zip the ball through the air. Scott should have few problems locating his receivers, a physical and rangy group that includes Dan Buckner, Austin Hill and Tyler Slavin. While the coaches weren’t pleased about much in the spring, they did like the depth and talent they inherited in the running game. Ka’Deem Carey is the budding star of a group that boasts multiple players capable of earning meaningful minutes. After going young up front a year ago, the Wildcats are set to really reap the benefits in 2012. All five starters are back to reprise their roles, with C Kyle Quinn and 6-8 tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele hoping to form the foundation. The biggest adjustment for this group will involve new blocking schemes and a mandate for quicker and better conditioned linemen.
Star of the offense: Senior QB Matt Scott
Rushing: Ka’Deem Carey
91 carries, 425 yds, 6 TDs
Receiving: Dan Buckner
42 catches, 606 yds, 2 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore RB Ka’Deem Carey
Unsung star on the rise: Senior FB Taimi Tutogi
Best pro prospect: Senior WR Dan Buckner
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Senior C Kyle Quinn, 2) Carey, 3) Scott
Strength of the offense: Dual-threat quarterback, backfield depth, O-line experience, pass protection
Weakness of the offense: Depth at quarterback, the ground game, receivers, O-line production
Former head coach Mike Stoops unknowingly did his successor, Rich Rodriguez, a huge favor when he redshirted Matt Scott in 2011. Instead of completely starting over at the position, the Wildcats are thrilled to have access to a heady senior who just might fit the new system to a tee. The 6-3, 197-pounder is a dual-threat athlete, ideally suited for a spread-option attack that covets speed and agility at the position. In three years in Tucson, he has appeared in 22 games, starting five, while accounting for 1,301 yards through the air, 632 yards on the ground and seven total touchdowns. Scott has been itching for this opportunity to run the show ever since he signed on at Arizona.
It might take a while before the staff decides on its backup quarterback for 2012. Junior Richard Morrison, who was recruited as a quarterback but has played wide receiver the last two seasons, took a bunch of snaps behind center in the spring. He’s an athletic, strong-armed 5-11, 183-pounder, who could be employed in select packages that accentuate his versatility.
Battling Morrison until rookies Javelle Allen and Josh Kern arrive is 6-3, 195-pound junior strong> B.J. Denker, a transfer from Cerritos (Calif.) Community College. Somewhat atypical of a Rodriguez quarterback, he has a gunslinger’s mentality as a thrower, yet can also break containment with his outstanding wheels.
Watch Out For .... Scott to make the most of his opportunity to be the man under center. He’s practically tailor-made to be the transition guy at Arizona, an even-keeled fifth-year player, who ran a similar offense in high school as the one he’s currently digesting. Heck, if all goes well, he’s liable to use this finale as a chance to turn the heads of a few pro scouts as well.
Strength: Run-pass option. The beauty of Scott, besides his abundant experience, is his ability to hurt defenses with his legs or his arm. He’s a fluid athlete, whether on designed runs, or when the integrity of the pocket breaks down. And while he still needs some polish as a passer, he gets maximum RPMs on his throws, and does a nice job of reading defenses.
Weakness: The backups. Scott is a luxury for the new staff, but after the senior, Arizona gets green in a hurry at quarterback. In fact, other than Scott, there isn’t a single quarterback on the roster who has attempted a pass at this level. If No. 10 misses any time, the Wildcats are going to be in big trouble on offense.
Outlook: Three years ago, Matt Scott was beaten out by Nick Foles for the starting gig under center. Now, he’s on the verge of succeeding Foles, becoming Rodriguez’s first quarterback in Tucson. The fifth-year senior is going to be a good match for the spread-option, flashing the physical ability to quickly master the system. Fingers are crossed, though, that he remains healthy, because Arizona will not be ready to improvise at the position until at least 2013.
Although he’s been handed nothing by the new staff, all expectations are that sophomore Ka’Deem Carey is about to become one of the Pac-12’s emerging offensive stars. Without starting a single game, he impressed by rushing 91 times for 425 yards and six touchdowns, while adding 15 receptions for 203 yards and two more scores. In an offense that favors the run, he could be on the brink of a breakout The 5-10, 203-pounder has feature back qualities, from his solid frame to his penchant for making people miss. Carey is the kind of runner who’s tough to get a clean shot on, which will bolster his durability as his workload increases in 2012.
Keeping Carey from becoming too content is junior Daniel Jenkins, who always seems to be one full season of health away from breaking out. A year ago, however, he was limited to just 31 carries for 176 yards and two touchdowns. When at full strength, he’s a quick and darting 5-9, 195-pounder who can make people miss in space, or serve as a dangerous outlet as a receiver.
The Wildcats will also employ a big back, much the way West Virginia had Owen Schmitt under Rich Rodriguez. Handling the fullback-esque role will be senior Taimi Tutogi, a multi-faceted athlete in a bruising 6-1, 260-pound shell. He has 36 games of experience, including 11 starts, as a fullback, H-back, tight end and tailback. In 2011, he carried the ball 25 times for 73 yards and four scores, adding 11 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown.
In Tutogi’s rear view mirror is junior Kylan Butler. At 5-7 and 186 pounds, he’s obviously the smaller package at the big back, but will still bring some punch to the position. Although he only carried six times for 29 yards in 2011, he runs with good pad level, and never stops driving his legs for more yards.
Watch Out For .... Carey to, well, carry the running game in the fall. Yeah, he’s listed as the co-starter with Jenkins, but few doubt who’ll get the majority of touches this season. The sophomore has a very high ceiling in Tucson, which the new staff has been tasked to make sure he reaches as quickly as possible.
Strength: Diversity. The ‘Cats harbor a very interesting collection of backs. Jenkins is the jackrabbit. Tutogi is the battering ram. And Carey figures to be the best combination of the pair. If used properly, Arizona is capable of doling out a unique mix of options on the ground in 2012.
Weakness: A proven feature back. While there’s a lot of potential buried within the running game, no one knows for sure yet if that group contains a true go-to guy who can spearhead the new attack. Carey would seem to be the logical choice, but even he only has 91 carries of experience at this level.
Outlook: There’s cautious optimism, but also plenty of excitement surrounding the Arizona ground troops. Carey has all the markings of a budding star, Jenkins will be a solid complement if healthy and Tutogi has secret weapon written all over him. Plus, QB Matt Scott will be no slouch with his legs. After finishing 114th nationally on the ground, the ‘Cats have justifiably high hopes for marked improvement here.
The corps of Arizona receivers is under renovation now that its three 65-catch guys, including star Juron Criner, have graduated. The expected new focal point of the offense will be senior Dan Buckner, a former five-star recruit of Texas who transferred to Tucson in 2011. He debuted with 42 receptions for 606 yards and two touchdowns, but a lot more will be expected this season. At 6-4 and 214 pounds, he has the big hands and all-around physical tools to flourish, but still needs to improve his overall consistency, and pick up the new schemes of a system that’ll require a little more downfield blocking.
If Buckner loses his grip on the starting role on the outside, it’ll mean he succumbed to redshirt freshman David Richards. At 6-4 and 203 pounds, he’s another big body capable of outmuscling defenders for position, or springing a back for more yards. He’s had a good offseason, but still has a ways to go before catching Buckner.
Speedy sophomore Garic Wharton is bucking to win the other job on the outside. While only 5-11 and 163 pounds, he can beat the jam with his quickness, and pick up additional yards after the reception. Whereas someone like Buckner must make adjustments with the implementation of an entirely new system, Wharton possesses the shiftiness and playmaking ability to blossom early on in the spread-option.
The veteran counterpart to Wharton will be 6-4, 228-pound senior Terrance Miller, who has been around the block a few times in Tucson. The veteran of three letters as a Wildcat will bring a steady presence to the field, catching 11 passes for 136 yards a year ago. Built more like a tight end or h-back, he’s a physical tool of the passing attack.
The Wildcats are staging a heated battle at slot receiver. Junior Richard Morrison, who is also a backup quarterback, is back after catching 22 balls for 201 yards and two scores in 2011. The 5-11, 183-pounder is one of the most versatile and selfless athletes on the roster, willing to contribute wherever he can help his team. He’s a good candidate to line up in a number of different areas this fall, keeping defenses guessing with his Pat White-like flexibility.
Regardless of what happens with Morrison, Arizona will have a hard time keeping 6-2, 200-pound sophomore Tyler Slavin off the field this season. Although he didn’t catch a pass last season, he’s poised to break that trend in 2012. In the spring, he was a frequent target of the quarterbacks, who wanted to employ his soft hands and crisp route-running.
Watch Out For .... the condition of sophomore Austin Hill. The 6-3, 211-pounder, who caught 21 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns, has enormous potential as a top-shelf wide receiver. However, he’s also rehabbing a neck injury that limited the use of his left arm in the spring. The program is hopeful that one of its budding playmakers will be available when practice resumes in August.
Strength: Size on the outside. Okay, so the new regime prefers jitterbug receivers who are small, quick and dynamic. At least for the time being, it might be forced to adapt to players like Buckner, Richards and Miller, physical bodies on the outside who are capable of creating mismatches with smaller defensive backs.
Weakness: Proven depth. The Wildcats are going to be noticeably light on experience this fall, with a number of anticipated contributors having played minimally up to this point in their careers. Buckner is going to need to be more than just a consistent target in the passing game. He’ll need to be more of a leader as well of a unit searching for some stability.
Outlook: This is clearly going to be a transition year for the Arizona receivers, which are digesting a new system, and injecting newcomers into the two-deep. Buckner is the closest thing to a sure-thing, but even he has work ahead of him. It would not be a surprise if one of the smaller, quicker athletes, like Wharton or Morrison delivers a big year in Rodriguez’s system.
With every starter expected back from a year ago, Arizona is optimistic about its O-line, provided the unit can meet the athletic and conditioning demands of the new coaching staff. One of the biggest question marks of the offseason has been status of 6-6, 310-pound sophomore OT Fabbians Ebbele, who was arrested in March for his part in an off-campus fracas. While the Freshman All-American is expected back, he has a ton to prove to a coaching staff preaching a team-first mantra. He’s a very talented blocker, but will need to get in shape, and get a grasp on a very different system.
If Ebbele fails to get back in the good graces of the staff, junior Chris Putton might be a candidate to slide outside and handle left tackle. The 6-4, 282-pounder has only played guard up to this point, starting nine games on the left side in 2011. The German native is a tough competitor who is at his best as a north-south run blocker.
While Putton belongs at left guard, if he winds up at tackle, Shane Zinkis a contender to fill the void. The former transfer from Shasta (Calif.) College played in four games, and started three in his first year in Tucson. At 6-6 and 314 pounds, he has the size and strength to move a pile for the team’s running backs.
At right tackle, 6-8, 290-pound sophomore Mickey Baucus is the incumbent after starting a dozen games a year ago. While he was raw in his debut, he also showed the long arms and good footwork needed to excel in pass protection. His immediate priority, though, will be to get healthy after undergoing offseason back surgery.
Right guard will once again be the domain of 6-5, 282-pound senior Trace Biskin, who started the final 10 games after missing the first two to a knee injury. After taking a while to emerge into an effective blocker, he really came on last year, playing with the improved consistency that the old staff had hoped for when they signed him.
The anchor of the line will once again be 6-3, 294-pound Kyle Quinn, an all-conference caliber center. Named honorable mention All-Pac-12 last season, he has many of the qualities that a coaching staff hopes for at the position. He’s an outstanding leader, is very smart and showcases the athleticism to get out to the second level in a hurry. The senior will once again contend for top center honors in the league.
Watch Out For .... Ebbele’s trajectory. He’s the Wildcats’ best tackle, and one of the up-and-coming pass protectors in the Pac-12. However, he’s also in the dog house, not the way to make a first impression with a new boss in town. Arizona needs Ebbele to get his act together away from the field so that he can resume his development on it.
Strength: Pass protection. The Wildcats return all of the key pieces from a blocking unit that ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in sacks allowed, despite throwing the ball a ton in 2011. Assuming its Ebbele and Baucus on the flanks, Arizona is going to boast a pair of young, emerging offensive tackles, with the footwork to neutralize speedy edge rushers.
Weakness: Run blocking. Unfortunately, the ‘Cats are not ideally positioned to operate a revamped offense about to rely heavily on the ground game. While improvement is expected, this remains a unit that had a difficult time getting the kind of push that opens holes for the running backs. Not only was Arizona one of the worst running teams in America, but it averaged only 3.4 yards per carry.
Outlook: Even with the return of five starters, this figures to be a year of transition for the Arizona O-line, which will contend with an entirely new blocking scheme, and the need to be a lot lighter on their feet. And while there’s ample room for growth, and a lot of budding talent, it might not be until midseason before this ensemble finds his groove.
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2012 Arizona Defense |
Arizona Depth Chart