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Arizona Preview 2006 - Offense
Arizona Wildcats
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 8, 2006


Arizona Wildcats Preview 2006 - Wildcat Offense

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.

Returning Leaders
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 Chris Henry
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 depth
Weakness of the offense:
Running back experience

Quarterbacks
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

Projected Starter
- Willie Tuitama, Soph. - 82-142, 1,105 yds, 58%, 9 TD, 5 INT
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.

Top Backups
- 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.

Running Backs
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

Projected Starters
- 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 ypc
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.

Top Backups
- 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.

Receivers
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

Projected Starters
- Mike Thomas, Soph. - 52 catches, 771 yds, 14.8 ypc, 5 TD
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 State.

- Anthony Johnson, Jr. - 32 catches, 419 yds, 13.1 ypc, 3 TD
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 receiving corps.

- 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.

Top Backups
- Syndric Steptoe, Sr. - 37 catches, 493 yds, 13.3 ypc, 1 TD
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.

Offensive Linemen
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 line.
Offensive Line Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- 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.

Top Backups
- 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 needed.
- 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.

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