Preview 2008 - Offense
2008 CFN Arizona Preview |
2007 Arizona Preview |
2006 CFN Arizona
need to know:
While it wasn’t
without hiccups, Arizona made a nice transition to Sonny Dykes’
wide-open spread offense. After averaging a 100th
place finish in total offense over three years, the ‘Cats clawed
their way to No. 67 behind a fast-paced passing attack that rung
up more than 300 yards a game. With ten starters, including
Tuitama, back from that unit, many school records are expected
to fall in 2008. Arizona is particularly loaded with skilled
receivers, including All-Pac-10 WR Mike Thomas and Rob
Gronkowski, a rare talent at tight end. Although the offense
should be crisper on experience alone, to really purr up to
Dykes’ liking, the line has to become more physical at the point
Passing: Willie Tuitama
327-524, 3,683 yds, 28 TD, 12 INT
Rushing: Nic Grigsby
161 carries, 704 yds, 2 TD
Receiving: Mike Thomas
83 catches, 1,038 yds, 11 TD
Star of the
Senior WR Mike Thomas
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior T
James Tretheway or junior T Adam Grant
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE Rob Gronkowski
Best pro prospect: Junior T Eben Britton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Thomas 2) Britton 3)
Senior QB Willie Tuitama
Strength of the offense: The passing game
Weakness of the offense: Backfield depth, the offensive
After flourishing statistically in his first season in Sonny
Dykes’ “Air Zona” passing attack, senior Willie Tuitama
is poised to take the next step to becoming one of the nation’s
most prolific passers. Just a year removed from reaching rock
bottom, he rebounded with 3,683 yards and a Pac-10-best 28
touchdown throws on 327-of-524 passing. Best of all, his
interception percentage was second to just Oregon’s Dennis Dixon
in the league and he took fewer hits than in his
concussion-filled sophomore season. The 6-3, 220-pound Tuitama
has a cannon, throws a nice deep ball, and will benefit
tremendously from having played 12 games in this offense.
Projected Top Reserves: The race to be Tuitama’s
backup will be between redshirt freshman Bryson Beirne
and sophomore Tyler Lyon, neither of whom has thrown a
pass at this level. Beirne has become the starter’s apprentice,
a 6-3, 214-pound hurler that even bears a striking resemblance
to Tuitama. He’s got a strong arm, moves well in and out of the
pocket, and is further along than his mentor at the same stage
of their careers.
Lyon has regressed since outplaying Kris Heavner for the No. 2
job last spring before getting suspended in September for his
role in a frat fight. Off-field issues aside, he’s a 6-5,
220-pound pocket passer with a big arm and the mobility that
belies his large frame.
Watch Out For… Tuitama to take his game to a new
level. Not only was last season’s experience huge for his
development, but now the senior will be making his final
audition for a spot in the NFL. Plus, Tuitama’s receivers are
better positioned to become assets in the spread attack.
Strength: Rocket arms. The Wildcats will dink and
dunk in the passing game, but it has nothing to do with the arm
strength of the quarterbacks. Led by Tuitama’s
howitzer all of the Arizona passers have no problem reaching
receivers on post patterns.
Weakness: Proven depth. Although Tuitama avoided
the disabled list in 2007, this is still the same quarterback
whose career was in jeopardy a little over a year ago. If he
gets his bell rung, the Wildcats will be forced to hand the ball
to a kid that’s yet to take a snap in college.
Outlook: While the first year with Dykes calling
plays was a success, it’s incumbent upon Tuitama to be even
better as a senior. He now has the receivers and the experience
to exit Tucson with a monster season, needing only to tighten up
his consistency, while turning more of those Jason Bondzio field
goal tries into six points.
Projected Starters: After providing an unexpected
spark to the running game midway through his rookie season,
sophomore Nic Grigsby is determined to be the feature
back from opening day. At 5-10 and 178 pounds, he gets to top
speed in a hurry and has soft hands, but will need to add more
girth to handle an increased workload. Buried on the depth
chart before the season began, he wound up rushing for 704 yards
and two scores on 161 carries, adding 35 catches for 200 yards
and two touchdowns, a vital element to being a back in this
Projected Top Reserves: For the second straight
year, backfield depth will come courtesy of Xavier Smith
and Terry Longbons, a pair of 5-11, 210-pound juniors
that have yet to approach their expectations coming out of high
school. Smith has logged just 49 carries over the last two
seasons, lacking that burst and extra gear needed to be more
than just an occasional option for short-yardage plunges.
Although Longbons is an intriguing combination of power and
speed, his career has been stunted by injuries and an inability
to get on the field. No threat to Grigsby, he’ll spar with
Smith for a chance to be No. 2 on the depth chart.
Watch Out For… Grigsby to be more valuable to the
offense as a third down receiver than as a runner. Lost in last
year’s debut was his 35 receptions and pair of touchdown
catches. Grigsby is best in open space, so look for the coaches
to get him the ball in spots that allow him to make people miss.
Strength: Pass-catching. Grigsby learned
early in his career that the best way to get on the field is by
hanging on to everything thrown in your direction. He has proven
to have sticky fingers in an offense that likes to go up top 65%
of the time.
Weakness: Depth. Grigsby did a fine job as a
freshman, but at his size, there’s legitimate concern about his
durability. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, he won’t get many
breathers in a program that only has one back that warrants
touches in Pac-10 games.
Outlook: It’s a good thing Arizona favors the pass
because it’s short on quality backs, especially the kind that
can pick up tough yards late in a game. Grigsby will suffice
for now, but the backfield situation would have been a whole lot
rosier had four-star recruit Ryan Bass remained committed to
Arizona rather than shifting allegiances to Arizona State.
Projected Starters: QB Willie Tuitama isn’t the
only Wildcat that’ll benefit from having played a full year in
Sonny Dykes’ high-powered offense. The Arizona receivers will
as well. Six of the eight players who caught at least 20
passes last season are back in Tucson, led by senior Mike
Thomas. While only 5-8 and 195 pounds, he’s a beast for
opposing defensive backs, and the ‘Cats’ top receiving threat
for a third straight year. The Pac-10 leader with 83 catches
for 1,038 yards and 11 touchdowns, Thomas was also a threat on
handoffs and kickoffs. Most dangerous when turning short hitches into long gainers,
he’s shifting from one of the outside positions to small
Junior Terrell Turner is back at “X” receiver
after starting 10 games, and finishing second on the team with
50 catches for 575 yards and four touchdowns. At 6-2 and 190
pounds, he can create mismatches with his long frame, and sports
one of the best pair of hands on the team.
Taking Thomas’ place at the “Z” receiver will be sophomore
Delashaun Dean, one of the group’s biggest targets at 6-4,
198-pound sophomore. As a part-time freshman starter, he pulled
in 37 of Tuitama’s passes for 418 yards and a score, making
catches in traffic and good use of his height advantage.
It didn’t take Rob Gronkowski very long to show the
nation why he was one of the top tight end recruits of 2007. As
a true freshman, the 6-6, 260-pound man-child pulled down 28
passes for 525 yards and six touchdowns, showing the versatility
to run past defenders or through them. If Gronkowski makes even
modest strides, the Wildcats will boast a Mackey Award contender
for as long as he stays in Tucson.
Projected Top Reserves: Backing up Turner at “X”
will be sophomore Terrell Reese, who started four games
and caught 20 passes for 202 yards. One of the most physical
receivers at 6-4 and 205 pounds, nagging injuries prevented him
from playing an even bigger role in last year’s attack.
The staff is counting on Devin Veal to blossom as a
redshirt freshman much the way Reese and Dean did a year ago.
Dean’s likely backup this fall, he’s a 5-11, 170-pound former
high school quarterback that’s been a quick study at his new
Behind Gronkowski will be sophomore A.J. Simmons, a 6-3,
250-pounder that would be starting in plenty of other programs.
A natural pass-catcher that runs well with the ball, he might
eventually force the staff to relocate him in order to get him
on the field.
Watch Out For… the Wildcats to concoct different
ways to get the ball in Gronkowski’s hands. With his size and
athletic ability, he’s a match up nightmare for the Pac-10’s
linebackers and safeties.
Strength: Imposing size. Yeah, Arizona’s best
receiver is just 5-8, but it’s star tight end is a 6-6,
260-pound freak, and Turner, Dean, and Reese are all 6-2 or
Weakness: Hands. As improved as the receivers were
in 2007, they also dropped a few too many passes that would have
continued drives. A little more consistency across the board
will mean fewer field goal attempts and more Tuitama touchdown
Outlook: The ‘Cats did enough growing in the new
offense in 2007 to turn 2008 into a breakthrough season. With
Thomas and Gronkowski flanked by an improved cast of
complements, Arizona will mount a challenge to become the
league’s premier receiving corps.
Projected Starters: The Wildcats bring back four
starters from an offensive line that made modest strides,
particularly in pass protection. The big void is at left
tackle, where all-star Peter Graniello was a four-year starter.
The early front-runner is 6-6, 305-pound senior James
Tretheway, who has one final chance to contribute at this
level. A former JUCO All-American at College of San Mateo, he
sat out 2006 to improve his strength and agility, but didn’t get
on the field last season.
Over on the right side, however, there is no uncertainty.
Junior Eben Britton is the anchor of the line, a
third-year starter that’s quickly emerging as one of the top
tackles in the country. At 6-6 and 310 pounds, the All-Pac-10
Second Teamer is impressively nimble, raising the possibility
that he could shift spots and seamlessly succeed Graniello on
the left side.
For the third year in-a-row, junior Blake Kerley will
quarterback the line at the pivot. While not very big at 6-2
and 285 pounds, he’s proven to be durable, effective making
snaps in the shotgun, and one of the emotional leaders of the
Making a return engagement at the guard spots will be senior
Joe Longacre and sophomore Colin Baxter. On the
right side, the 6-3 and 315-pound Longacre has 27 career starts
and plays with power in tight spaces but lumbers when forced to
get on the move.
To the left of Kerley is Baxter, a former high school wrestling
champ that pulls well and plays with plenty of fire and
intensity. At 6-4 and 295 pounds, he’s a little undersized for
the staff’s liking, which could leave him vulnerable when the
newest wave of recruits arrives on campus.
Projected Top Reserves: Breathing down Tretheway’s
neck all year will be senior Bill Wacholz and junior
Adam Grant, a couple of 6-6, 310-pounders. Wacholz has
earned a couple of letters in Tucson, flashing the versatility
to also provide depth at either guard spot. To earn a spot in
the starting lineup, however, he’ll need to improve his pass
protection skills. If not for injuries, Grant might be the best
option for the Wildcats. However, three ACL surgeries,
including one last season, have left the staff skittish about
his future with the program.
Sophomore Jovon Hayes has the highest ceiling of the
Wildcat guards. Mike Stoops needed to beat out the likes USC,
Oklahoma and Florida in 2006 to land the 6-2, 300-pounder, who
has the strength and athleticism to earn his first letter.
Watch Out For… The transfers. Offensive line
coach Bill Bedenbaugh covets hulking linemen that can stop the
rush and maul smaller defenders. Enter JUCO transfers
Phillip Garcia, Mike Diaz, and Herman Hall,
who average 6-5 and 325 pounds, and will be pushing hard for
spots on the two-deep.
Strength: Experience. With four of last year’s
regulars back for another season, Arizona boasts a veteran unit
that’s combined for 86 career starts.
Weakness: Run blocking. A swing in the offensive
philosophy isn’t the only reason why ‘Zona was 114th
nationally on the ground. The backs rarely got enough room to
roam, often taking first contact close to the line of
Outlook: After taking baby steps a year ago, the
offense needs the line to make a quantum leap in both run
blocking and pass protection. While Britton is a fixture on one
side, someone needs to step up and take ownership at the other
tackle position. Ideally, one or two of the wide-body recruits
settles into the rotation without looking like a first-year