2009 Arizona Preview - Offense

Posted Jul 22, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Arizona Wildcat Offense

Arizona Wildcats

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Arizona Preview | 2009 Arizona Offense
- 2009 Arizona Defense
| 2009 Arizona Depth Chart
- 2008 Arizona Preview | 2007 Arizona Preview
| 2006 Arizona Preview 

What you need to know: Sonny Dykes’ wide-open spread attack wasn’t so care-free after all last year. The Wildcats were far more balanced than advertised, actually running it more than they threw it. And why not? In Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin, they’ve got two of the more dynamic backs in the Pac-10. Expect more of the same in 2009, especially with QB Willie Tuitama and all-time leading receiver Mike Thomas out of eligibility. All eyes will be on the battle to replace Tuitama that pits Matt Scott against Michigan State transfer Nick Foles. If Scott, last year’s backup, gets the nod, Arizona could resemble Oregon, featuring a mobile quarterback and a pair of talented rushers. Oh, they’ll still be throwing the ball in Tucson, but don’t be fooled. The ‘Cats will play to their personnel, keeping it on the ground 40 times a game.  

Returning Leaders
Passing: Matt Scott
7-11, 84 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Nic Grigsby
214 carries, 1,153 yds, 13 TD
Receiving: Delashaun Dean
53 catches, 593 yds, 4 TD

Star of the offense: Junior TE Rob Gronkowski
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Matt Scott or Nick Foles
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Keola Antolin
Best pro prospect: Gronkowski
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Gronkowski  2) Junior RB Nic Grigsby  3) Junior WR Delashaun Dean
Strength of the offense: Scoring in the red zone, balance, depth in the running game
Weakness of the offense: Youth at quarterback, lack of a deep threat, instability in the trenches


Projected Starter: While the Wildcats are sad to see Willie Tuitama graduate, don’t assume the offense goes off the rails because there’s a new man under center. Arizona has recruited well since coordinator Sonny Dykes came on board. The slight favorite to succeed Tuitama was his 2008 backup, 6-3, 190-pound sophomore Matt Scott. One of the most athletic quarterbacks to ever play in Tucson, he’ll provide an added dimension to the offense, flashing great speed and quickness outside the pocket. In mop-up duty a year ago, he was only 7-of-11 for 84 yards and a touchdown, but finished third on the team with 188 yards rushing and two scores on just 23 carries. As a passer, he has great mechanics and throws accurate darts. Experience is the only thing separating Scott from being a really effective Pac-10 quarterback.      

Projected Top Reserves: If Scott is on the fast track to a starting assignment, then Nick Foles is a 6-5, 235-pound speed bump. The sophomore transfer from Michigan State has had a terrific offseason, getting in Scott’s hip pocket by the end of spring. While not nearly as athletic, he’s got the strongest arm of the passers and has been hailed by the coaches for his work ethic. Based on his performance over the past year, he plans on keeping this competition tight heading into the summer.

Just outside the Scott vs. Foles race is 6-3, 225-pound sophomore Bryson Beirne, the likely third-stringer this season. Considered the heir apparent to Tuitama not long ago, he’s slipped in the pecking order. A solid presence in the pocket, he’s got a live arm and is light on his feet, in or outside the pocket.  

Watch Out For… an extended competition between Scott and Foles that lasts shortly before the opener with Central Michigan. Scott has to be considered the frontrunner because of his versatility, but Foles has done nothing to make this a foregone conclusion. Mike Stoops wanted this to be a competitive. He’s got it.
Strength: Versatility. Scott does a little bit of everything well. Foles has the NFL arm and the NFL frame. Beirne is a combination of the two. Together, the trio gives Arizona myriad options to work with and the potential for new wrinkles in the playbook. 
Weakness: Lack of experience. By virtue of last year’s 11 pass attempts, Scott is the vet of this unit. That could present a problem by the time the Wildcats travel to Iowa and Oregon State for back-to-back September tests. After having a four-year starter at the helm, it’ll take some time getting used to three sophomores atop the depth chart.
Outlook: Does Arizona give the ball to the multi-dimensional athlete or the traditional pocket passer? It’s a question ‘Cat fans have been pondering since January. Whether it’s Scott or Foles, you get the feeling that the program will be just fine at the position. Sure, there’ll be rough spots and learning curves, but with two talented sophomores pushing each other, it’s a matter of time before Arizona is humming again on offense. 
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters: For a team that’s supposed to be built on the pass, Arizona sure has done a nice job of building a backfield. For the second straight year, 5-10, 190-pound junior Nic Grigsby was outstanding, rushing for 1,153 yards and 13 scores on 214 carries. While his speed and quickness make him most dangerous outside the tackles, he has added weight in order to handle the more physical runs on the inside. He’s the feature guy, provided he can hold on to the ball, which plagued him at times in 2008. A quality receiver out of the backfield, he was underutilized last fall, catching just a dozen passes for 62 yards.  

Projected Top Reserves: As a true freshman, Keola Antolin caught a lot of people by surprise, finishing second on the team with 525 yards and 10 touchdowns on 117 carries, highlighted by a breakout game versus Cal. A 5-8, 186-pound jackrabbit, he’s got the quickness and change of direction to make people miss in space. Surprisingly tough for his size, he likes to get lost behind the linemen on the inside before busting into daylight. He’s a gamebreaker, who’ll command even more work this season.

While Grigsby and Antolin bring the flash, redshirt freshman Greg Nwoko has the downhill power and leg drive to be a valuable change of pace, especially in short yardage. The 6-2, 220-pounder made a lasting impression during the spring, running through defenders, yet showing unexpected agility for such a powerful runner.

Watch Out For… more of Antolin. Yeah, Grigsby’s still the main man, but Antolin brings something special and unique to the offense. He only scratched the surface of his potential as a rookie, and will make it difficult for the coaches to keep him idling on the sidelines.
Strength: Elusiveness. If the blockers can spring Grigsby and Antolin, both are capable of making defenders whiff and picking up extra yardage after contact. They’re very quick to the hole, and despite being just around 190 pounds, won’t shy away from contact.
Weakness: Turnovers. Antolin actually got his first good look at the field after Grigsby put the ball on the turf a few times. The Wildcat offense can’t afford carelessness, especially since the first-year starting quarterback will already be prone to making mistakes.
Outlook: What looked like a weak link a year ago has suddenly become one of the pillars of the offense. For all the talk about the high-powered passing game, Arizona was a respectable 48th nationally in rushing a year ago. While Grigsby has proven to be a solid feature back, Antolin is an ideal complement, with the skill set to be a regular on wrap-up highlight shows.
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: While the passing game will be without one of the school’s all-time best receivers, Mike Thomas, the cupboard is hardly bare at wide receiver and tight end. In fact, three of last year’s top four pass-catchers still call Tucson home. The best of the group is junior TE Rob Gronkowski, a 6-6, 265-pound force of nature, who’ll have a difficult time saying no to the NFL at the end of this season. One of the most complete tight ends to hit the college ranks in years, he can block, stretch a defense, and catch anything remotely near his body. A reigning All-Pac-10 first teamer and Mackey Award candidate, he’s already caught 75 passes for 924 yards and 16 touchdowns in just two years.

On the outside, the Wildcats welcome back a couple of starters, 6-4, 202-pound junior Delashaun Dean and 6-2, 190-pound senior Terrell Turner. Dean really came into his own in 2008, finishing second on the team with 53 catches for 593 yards and four touchdowns. A big, physical target, he uses his body well and will win battles versus smaller receivers. While not a burner, the former basketball player is a leaper with the long arms and big mitts to pluck balls out of the air.

Turner is the steady veteran of the group, earning letters and starts in each of the last three seasons. Although he had his best season in 2007, he did catch 43 passes a year ago for 580 yards and a touchdown. He runs nice routes and rarely drops passes, making him a natural target for the quarterbacks on third down.

When the ‘Cats make use of an H-back, 6-2, 235-pound senior Chris Gronkowski, Rob’s older brother and roommate, will make his way into the huddle. A self-made tweener, part fullback and part tight end, he proved to be rather versatile, catching eight passes for 198 yards and three scores. A devastating lead blocker and one of the smartest kids on the team, he has a real good chance of playing at the next level.   

Projected Top Reserves: Although he only caught seven balls for 88 yards and a touchdown, sophomore Juron Criner started three games in his debut season, gaining valuable experience along the way. At 6-4 and 210 pounds, he has the size to create mismatches, and the after-catch ability which makes him a great fit for the spread offense. He’ll back up Turner at “X” receiver before taking over in 2010.

The coaching staff got a real good look at sophomore William “Bug” Wright, and liked what it saw. Playing as if he was channeling Thomas, the 5-9, 175-pounder has made a case for a starting role in the slot, using blazing speed to turn short passes, reverses, and slot options into long gainers. If you don’t wrap him up, he’ll squirm free for more yards. There’s an opening in this unit for a playmaker like Wright.  

It might be time for 5-11, 188-pound sophomore Devin Veal to begin spreading his wings and taking on a bigger role on offense. A quarterback in high school, he’s gotten up to speed in his new position, and is itching to use his speed and agility to become more of a playmaker.

Watch Out For… Bug. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with having a bunch of big receivers, but sometimes it comes at a cost, like speed and explosiveness. Wright is very much the antithesis of Dean and Turner, an exciting open-field playmaker, who’s especially dangerous after the catch.
Strength: Imposing size. Now that Thomas is headed to the NFL, Arizona will really look accentuate the size edge it has over opponents. With a couple of exceptions in the slot everyone is super-sized, giving the new quarterback a bunch of can’t-miss targets, who won’t be difficult to locate.                          
Weakness: Deep threat. Who replaces Thomas and his ability to stretch a secondary? His 4.3 speed made life so much simpler for those guys running short and underneath routes. Dean and Turner are nice receivers, but neither will force opposing defenses to compensate for their downfield potential.
Outlook: While the Wildcats have a nice set of receivers, it’s the tight end, Gronkowski, who really elevates the entire group. He is so talented and dangerous, it’ll attract defensive resources in his direction, helping make the wideouts more effective. Although Arizona will do most of its work in the middle of the field, it’ll help if someone can occasionally test the perimeter.   
Rating: 8

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: When Eben Britton decided to forego his final year of eligibility, it was probably the single biggest loss suffered by the 2009 team. You just don’t get better by losing a left tackle of his caliber. His possible replacement is junior Phillip Garcia, who has loads of upside, yet hasn’t played a down at this level. An enormous 6-7, 325-pound product of Cerritos (Calif.) College, he redshirted last year to get healthy and get acclimated. His health, however, remains a concern after he sat out the spring to rest his knee. The potential is there for him to lock down this job, but he first has a few layers of rust to shake off.

Senior Adam Grant is penciled in at the other tackle spot, but, like Garcia, has been slowed by injuries throughout his career. The 6-6, 325-pounder has endured a series of ACL surgeries and, just when it looked like he was settling in, broke his pinkie last October. When he was in the lineup in September, he showed good footwork for a big man and the strength to move defenders off the ball.

If 6-2, 290-pound senior Blake Kerley is able to return from last September’s ACL tear, he’ll be back for a fourth year as the starting center. If, on the other hand, he’s slow to recover, other provisions will have to be made. The intelligent quarterback of the unit, he’s quick off the snap, rarely makes mistakes, and is one of the offense’s emotional leaders. A healthy Kerley benefits everyone up front.

When Kerley went down, 6-4, 295-pound junior Colin Baxter without skipping a beat. Equally effective at center or guard, he’ll start wherever he’s needed. Tough and physical at the point of contact, he has now started two dozen games over the last two seasons. His quickness, both physically and mentally, has helped make him the team’s best lineman now that Britton has departed.

Senior Mike Diaz will be starting somewhere in 2009, possibly left guard if everyone gets medical clearance. He played very well in his first year out of Cerritos (Calif.) College, starting nine games and earning the confidence of the coaching staff. A 6-5, 320-pound mauler with good feet, that season of experience has already proven to be a boon to his overall development.       

Projected Top Reserves: Rising quickly on the second unit is junior Conan Amituanai, who’s flourished since making the move from defensive tackle to offensive guard. He’s had a terrific offseason, showing much greater focus and determination in practice and the weight room. At 6-4 and 335 pounds, he has the upper body strength to dominate his man, especially on straight-ahead running plays.

Sophomore Vaughn Dotsy is another behemoth guard challenging for an expanded role this fall. In fact, if Baxter winds up playing center, Dotsy is the favorite to start on the right side. He actually had to trim down to get to 6-5 and 335 pounds after arriving from high school, yet is surprisingly nimble for his size and very powerful.

The uncertainty at tackle has created a demand for players, like 6-8, 295-pound Jack Julsing, an import from College of the Desert. Pursued for his pass protection skills and long reach, he exited spring as the second team left tackle, with a chance to elevate further this summer. 

Watch Out For… Diaz to relocate. The coaching staff has already said it has no beef moving the senior from guard to tackle if it becomes necessary. As if losing Britton wasn’t tough enough, the projected starters, Garcia and Grant, have had a history of injury problems. Diaz has the head and the versatility to shift out without any issues.
Strength: Raw power. Forget the finesse that used to characterize Arizona fronts. This edition is littered with massive blockers, who are capable of owning the line of scrimmage. It’s no wonder that the Wildcats ran more than most expected a year ago.
Weakness: Durability. Geez, the injuries seem to be following this group of linemen. Both projected starting tackles are gimpy, the starting center is trying to return from ACL surgery, and one of the starting guards missed part of spring with a bum ankle. Injuries are a part of the game, but the ‘Cats have absorbed more than their fair share.
Outlook: The toughest part of evaluating Arizona is that no one knows for sure what the rotation will look like. If everyone is at full strength, this is a pretty solid line that’ll excel in run blocking. If, however, there are too many casualties, there isn’t enough proven depth to patch together a makeshift line on the fly.
Rating: 7