What you need to know ... It
took a few years, but the Arizona offense should finally be
consistently productive. Improvement in the running game will be
a key early, but it'll be too tempting not to bomb away.
Quarterback Willie Tuitama is one of college football's
brightest young stars, and he has weapons to work with thanks to
the return of the top four receivers from last year and more
speed in the backfield than the Wildcats have had in years. The
pass protection should be even better with tackles Peter
Graniello and Tanner Bell returning to lead a deep line.
Passing: Willie Tuitama
82-142, 1,105 yds, 9 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Chris Henry
34 carries, 119 yds
Receiving: Mike Thomas
52 catches, 771 yds, 5 TD
Star of the offense: Sophomore QB Willie Tuitama
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior RB
Unsung star on the rise: Junior TE Brandyn McCall
Best pro prospect: Junior OT Peter Graniello
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Tuitama, 2) WR Mike
Thomas, 3) Graniello
Strength of the offense: Passing game, offensive line
Weakness of the offense:
Running back experience
Not only does Arizona have a rock-solid number one starter
in Willie Tuitama, for the first time under head coach Mike
Stoops, it has good depth with Adam Austin a great practice
player and capable backup along with Kris Heavner, who started
14 games before leaving to play baseball for a year. The offense
will revolve around Tuitama, who still needs a lot of seasoning,
a lot, but has all the makings of a budding superstar.
The only problem is mobility ... there isn't any. Any running
done by this group will be when everything breaks down.
The key to the unit: Willie Tuitama has to work
through all his mistakes and just keep bombing. Incoming
freshman Tyler Lyon needs practice time to be ready to step into
the number two role in 2007.
Quarterback Rating: 8
- Willie Tuitama, Soph. - 82-142, 1,105 yds, 58%, 9 TD, 5
Supposed to sit on the sidelines and learn in practices, Tuitama
came in late in the the year and not only provided a spark, he
instantly became the face of Arizona football and the star to
rally around. He's a big 6-3, 218-pound bomber who brings
confidence and an attitude to the team. He threw two touchdown
passes in his first four games before finishing up with an
average performance in the loss to Arizona State while showing a
poise and experience beyond his years. While he torched Oregon
State for 335 yards, he also showed his youth with a three
interception game against Washington. He isn't going to run for
many yards mostly using his arm that can make all the throws.
- Adam Austin, Sr. - 3-5, 32 yds, 60%, 32 yds
A decent backup with plenty of practice experience, the 6-3
Austin knows the offense and should be able to keep the offense
going if something happens to Willie Tuitama. He's not a runner
and doesn't have nearly the arm or Tuitama, but the former
walk-on is accurate.
- Kris Heavner, Sr.
Back in the mix after missing last year to concentrate on his
pitching with the Wildcat baseball team, the former starter has
more than enough experience to step in if needed. He has a live
arm and is tough, but he struggled with interceptions throwing
19 of them in 16 games. He'll be much better in a backup role.
The loss of 952-yard runner Mike
Bell and solid number two man Gilbert Harris won't hurt as much
as it might seem with more speed being added with redshirt
freshmen Xavier Smith and Terry Longbons playing prominent roles
behind Chris Henry, whose warp speed should bring another
element to the attack. There will be a bigger emphasis on
catching the ball and making things happen with all the
quickness and home-run hitting ability.
The key to the unit: Chris Henry has to prove he can
go from being a solid number three back to the main man, and the
redshirt freshmen have to play like experienced veterans.
Running Back Rating: 6.5
- Chris Henry, Jr. - 79 carries, 284 yds, 3.6 ypc, 5 TD,
2 catches, -3 yds
Henry had a hard time getting carries with Mike Bell and Gilbert
Harris around with most of his work coming against UCLA when he
tore off 119 yards against UCLA. He's a good-sized back with
home run hitting speed. Even though he has yet to prove he can
be a workhorse, his wheels make him too good to keep him from
not getting the ball in his hands in some way 20 times a game.
- Fullback Brandon Lopez, Soph. - 4 catches, 35 yds, 8.8
The former linebacker is a tough blocker with decent enough hands
to become a key target for Willie Tuitama. He
won't see too many carries and isn't the biggest fullback around
at 6-1 and 220 pounds, but he's plenty tough on special teams as
well as on offense.
- Xavier Smith, RFr.
Smith provides a good pop with excellent speed to go along with
surprising toughness in a 5-11, 196-pound frame. He needs time
and carries, which he didn't see many of in practice last
season, and needs to show off some reliable hands as a receiver.
In time, he should be a top workhorse.
- Terry Longbons, RFr.
A huge recruiting coup for the program two years ago, the 5-11,
204-pound Longbons will likely spend most of his time on special
teams and rotating in the number two running back spot behind
Chris Henry. He's tough enough to see a little time at fullback
to get his speed on the field in different formations.
- Fullback Eric Schlegel, Soph.
A little bigger and a little stronger than starter Brandon
Lopez, the 230-pound sophomore will have a hard time seeing the
field with incoming freshman Earl Mitchell expected to take up
time at fullback and H-Back right away.
The receiving corps should put up huge numbers with the
emergence of QB Willie Tuitama; and the other way around. The
top four receivers return with a nice mix of speed, experience,
and explosive playmaking potential. Mike Thomas grew into an
all-star earning co-Pac 10 Freshman Player of the Year, while
Anthony Johnson, Syndric Steptoe and B.J. Dennard aren't all
that far behind in talent level. The tight end situation is
fantastic with three excellent targets in Brad Wood, Brandyn
McCall and Travis Bell, and things should be even better with
former Houston and Wyoming head coach Dana Dimel coaching them.
The key to the unit: More big plays are needed from
the wideouts. Only nine of the 19 touchdown passes last year
were thrown to the wide receivers, and that needs to change with
this talented crew.
Receiver Rating: 7
- Mike Thomas, Soph. - 52 catches, 771 yds, 14.8 ypc, 5
Thomas quickly grew into the number one target as a freshman and
exploded once Willie Tuitama took over catching nine passes for
266 yards and two touchdowns in back-to-back weeks. He's not big
at 5-8 and 173 pounds, so he has to make plays with his deep
threat ability, quickness and toughness. He likely would've
finished around the 60-grab mark if he didn't injure his hand
late in the year; he played with a cast on it against Arizona
- Anthony Johnson, Jr. - 32 catches, 419 yds, 13.1 ypc, 3
At 6-2 and 205 pounds, Johnson is a big, tough target growing
into the role on the outside as the year went on highlighted by
a three-catch, 117-yard, one touchdown day against Oregon State
and made seven grabs against Washington. He was a star high
school basketball player who brings that athleticism to the
- Tight end Brad Wood, Sr. - 27 catches, 304 yds, 11.3
ypc, 6 TD
Wood hit the weights hard getting up to 250 pounds to add to his
fantastic hands. After leading the team with six touchdown
catches, he'll have to battle this fall to get the starting job
back after missing much of spring ball with a knee injury. If
he's right, the former JUCO transfer will be in the hunt for
All-Pac 10 honors.
- Syndric Steptoe, Sr. - 37 catches, 493 yds, 13.3 ypc, 1
Steptoe has phenomenal speed as both a receiver and as the
team's top kick returner averaging 25.5 yards per kickoff return
and 11.1 yards per punt return. He finished as the team's number
two receiver even though he missed a game with an injury. With
his speed, he needs to be even more of an explosive deep threat
behind Mike Thomas.
- B.J. Dennard, Jr. - 7 catches, 72 yds, 10.3 ypc
Dennard has been a key all-around player as a corner and
receiver as well as a top special teamer. Now he'll spend all
his time at receiver where he'll be one of the tougher targets
and a great downfield blocker. The coaching staff will be sure
to get the ball in his hands as a runner as well as a receiver.
- Tight end Brandyn McCall, Jr.
The JUCO transfer wasn't able to do anything after getting hurt
in the first game of the year. He was great this spring after
bulking up this off-season and should play a huge role in all
aspects of the offense. As an all-star at Golden West College,
he made 45 catches.
- Tight end Travis Bell, Soph. - 4 catches, 42 yds, 10.5.
ypc, 2 TD
Bell saw a little time as a true freshman coming on late in the
year to grow into a good target in the red zone. At 6-6 and 245
pounds, he's big and athletic with too much upside not to see
more work. He still needs to improve on his blocking, but he'll
be a top receiver.
This should be the best line yet in the Mike Stoops era
with talented depth to push the experienced starters. There's even more
help on the way with a fantastic recruiting class coming in led by JUCO
transfer James Tretheway and freshman Jovon Hayes. Tackles Peter
Graniello and Tanner Ball are talented tackles who should be even better
in pass protection, while the guard play should be fine even after
losing Kili Lefotu and John Abramo with Adam Hawes and Joe Longacre
emerging after seeing a little bit of starting time last year.
The key to the unit: More has to be done for the
running game that only averaged 3.5 yards per carry. With so much
experience and depth, there's no reason this should just be an average
Offensive Line Rating: 6.5
- OT Peter Graniello, Jr.
One of the Pac 10's rising stars, the 6-6 junior earned Honorable
Mention All-Pac 10 honors last season and should only get better. He's a
strong pass blocker and has grown more physical against the run.
- OG Adam Hawes, Sr.
The former JUCO transfer turned into a starter last year and should be a
rock. He's an athletic 302 pounds who's great on the move with the feet
to play tackle if he doesn't start at left guard.
- C Erick Levitre, Sr.
The 282-pound senior ended up being the surprise starter at the
beginning of last year and ended up being the main man in the middle for
every game. The former walk-on's experience will be a boost for the
continued consistency of the interior.
- OG Joe Longacre, Soph.
Able to play tackle or guard, the star recruit of a few years ago is one
of the team's biggest linemen with enough starting experience to go from
being a top prospect to a potential all-star. He'll start out at right
guard and could be moved around if injuries strike.
- OT Tanner Bell, Sr.
The 6-8, 294-pound senior is back after getting an extra year thanks to
a medical hardship from an ankle problem a few years ago. He's finally
healthy and should be one of the line's most consistent all-around
blockers after starting every game last year at right tackle.
- OG Daniel Borg, RFr.
The Arizona state high school player of the year in 2004 can play either
center or guard. He came out of spring ball as a top prospect at right
right guard behind Joe Longacre. He still has room on his 6-6, 280-pound
frame to add more bulk.
- OG Bill Wacholz, Soph.
While he only saw a little bit of time last season, the 294-pound
sophomore has gotten big enough and strong enough to be a key reserve at
left guard behind Adam Hawes. He's athletic enough to play tackle if
- T Adam Grant, RFr.
Grant started out as a tight end and bulked up 20 pounds to get up to
280 pounds. With his athleticism and natural ability, he'll play a big
role on the left side behind Peter Graniello.
- T Eben Britton, RFr.
One of the line's most promising players this spring, the 6-6, 285-pound
Britton was phenomenal in pass protection. He was so good that Tanner
Bell might be in for a fight this fall at right tackle.