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2008 Arizona Preview - Offense

Posted Apr 11, 2008 2008 Preview - Arizona Wildcat Offense

Arizona Wildcats

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Arizona Preview | 2008 Arizona Offense
- 2008 Arizona Defense
| 2008 Arizona Depth Chart
- 2007 Arizona Preview
| 2006 CFN Arizona Preview 

What you 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 of attack.  

Returning Leaders
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 offense: 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 line


Projected Starter: 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.  
Rating: 8

Running Backs

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 offense. 

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.
: 6.5


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 H-back. 

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 position.

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 bigger.                         
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 strikes.                  
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.
Rating: 8

Offensive Line

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 unit.

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 scrimmage.             
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 recruit.
: 6.5


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2008 CFN Arizona Wildcat Preview
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2008 Arizona Preview - Defense
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2008 Arizona Preview – Depth Chart
 -by  Apr 11, 2008

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