2010 Arizona Preview – Offense
Arizona C Colin Baxter
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Arizona Wildcat Offense
Preview 2010 - Offense
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What you need to know: Coordinator Sonny Dykes is gone. The wide-open spread attack, however, stays in Tucson. With Dykes now the head coach at Louisiana Tech, Mike Stoops is turning to Seth Littrell and Bill Bedenbaugh as his co-coordinators. To their delight, they’ll inherit an offense that welcomes back 10 starters and is well-positioned for success. Unlike a year ago, Arizona has no quarterback controversy thanks to the impressive debut of Nick Foles, who’ll be surrounded by considerable talent at the skill positions and four of last year’s five regular linemen. If backs Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin can stay healthy and WR Juron Criner keeps emerging, this will be one of the most potent attacks in the Pac-10.
Star of the offense: Senior RB Nic Grigsby
Passing: Nick Foles
260-410, 2,486 yds, 19 TDs, 9 INTs
Rushing: Keola Antolin
114 carries, 637 yds, 4 TDs
Receiving: Juron Criner
45 catches, 582 yds, 9 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior RT Phillip Garcia
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Juron Criner
Best pro prospect: Junior QB Nick Foles
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Senior C Colin Baxter, 2) Criner, 3) Grigsby
Strength of the offense: Experience, balance, pass protection
Weakness of the offense: Red zone scoring, pop in the passing game, injuries
Projected Starter: It took longer than anyone expected, but junior Nick Foles grabbed control in the battle to supplant Willie Tuitama in September and never looked back. The backup when the season began, he started the final 10 games, finishing 260-of-410 for 2,486 yards, 19 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He was also named honorable mention All-Pac-10, quite an ascent for the Michigan State transfer. He has the arm strength you’d expect from a 6-5, 235-pounder and is a student of the game, but needs to work on some mechanical issues and achieve a higher level of consistency. The Holiday Bowl loss to Nebraska was a reminder that there’s ample room for growth in the next two seasons.
Projected Top Reserves: While Foles is the incumbent, no one is shutting the door on 6-3, 195-pound junior Matt Scott . Yes, he lost the job after a few games, throwing the ball poorly, but his athletic ability is intriguing. In fact, even as an occasional spare part, he finished third on the team in rushing with 309 yards on 41 carries. The job of ace quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo is to sharpen his passing skills and improve his confidence. Usually an accurate dart-thrower, he was 41-of-72 for 441 yards, one touchdown, and three picks.
With the first two spots set in granite, 6-3, 225 junior Bryson Beirne will once again be the emergency quarterback in the three-hole. Once considered the heir apparent to Tuitama, he’s drifted in the pecking order, but still has a nice presence in the pocket and a better grasp of the offense than your average third-stringer.
Watch Out For .... Scott to get more snaps this season even if he can’t unseat Foles. At worst, he’s the kind of change-of-pace who allows a coaching staff to expand the playbook and include more “Wildcat” looks. Arizona won’t flip-flop its quarterbacks, but maximizing the skills of both Foles and Scott has the potential to give Pac-10 defenses fits.
Strength: The mix of skills. Foles has an NFL arm and an NFL frame. Scott is a fantastic all-around athlete. Beirne is a blend of the two. Together, the trio gives the Wildcats a plethora of different options for attacking defenses. And unlike this time last year, Foles and Scott are no longer wide-eyed and inexperienced.
Weakness: Lack of big plays. Foles can really air it out, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at last season’s numbers. Sure, the offense is built around the quick-hitters, but the Wildcats ranked last in the Pac-10 in yards per attempt and yards per completion. They’d like to make much better use of Foles’ arm strength this fall and do a better job of stretching defenses out.
Outlook: Last summer, the ‘Cats had a pair of unproven sophomores and a mess of uncertainty. The dynamics have changed considerably since then. Foles has a full year under his belt and the potential to blossom into a perennial all-star. With Scott nipping at his heels, there’s no chance he’ll become content. Arizona has a nice situation behind center that figures to only get better once Scelfo gets more time to mold his two juniors.
Projected Starter: When healthy, 5-11, 195-pound senior Nic Grigsby is one of the better backs around that few have seen play. The problem is that a shoulder injury prevented him from being at full strength for much of 2009. As a sophomore, he bolted for 1,153 yards and 13 scores on just 214 carries. A year ago, however, he was limited to only 79 touches for 567 yards and five touchdowns. He’s way too dangerous, especially outside the tackles, to not have an integral role in this offense. It’s imperative for the attack and the entire team that he’s able to approach a rather lofty ceiling in 2010.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Keola Antolin may have led the Wildcats with 637 yards and four scores on 114 carries, but he’s still the backup when Grigsby is healthy. And a darn good one. While only 5-8 and 195 pounds, he’s a lot tougher than his size might indicate, allowing him to operate inside as well as outside the tackles. He also has the quickness and stop-start ability to make people whiff in open space. A game-changer, he’s shown a knack for hiding behind his line and then exploding into daylight when it’s already too late to slow him down.
When Arizona wants to move the pile in short yardage situations, it can turn to sophomore Greg Nwoko , a 6-2, 228-pound battering ram. A classic north-south runner, without a ton of wiggle, he managed to earn 76 carries for 273 yards and three touchdowns in his debut. After missing the spring to recover from a shoulder injury, he’ll need to play catch up in August in order to earn more snaps and fend off the younger kids.
Watch Out For .... the health of Grigsby’s shoulder. Antolin is very good, but Grigsby is a potential All-Pac-10 candidate, who’s capable of making everyone on the offense more effective. Arizona needs him to recapture the form that made him one of the league’s rising offensive stars of 2008.
Strength: Big-play potential. As long as the blockers continue to give them room to run, Grigsby and Antolin are both capable of ripping off big chunks of yardage on the ground. They get to the hole in a hurry, have great vision in traffic, and are averaging over five yards a carry for their careers.
Weakness: Durability. The biggest question mark surrounding this group deals with its ability to remain healthy and endure the pounding of an entire season. Neither Grigsby nor Antolin is physically imposing, and both have had their share of bumps and bruises over the last two seasons. Heck, even Nwoko, the biggest of the backs, was on the shelf when the ‘Cats broke spring camp.
Outlook: It all comes down to availability. If the entire ensemble is at the staff’s disposal, this can be a very explosive element of the offense in 2010. Grigsby has next-level talent and Antolin can be a real sparkplug off the bench. The coaches might want to find new ways to get the pair in open space, which could mean more dump-offs and screens in the passing game.
Projected Starters: With nine of last year’s top 10 pass-catchers back, Arizona will have no shortage of experienced targets for QB Nick Foles. Looking to build on last season’s breakout year will be junior Juron Criner. Pegged as a backup on the outside before the season began, he went on to catch 45 passes for 582 yards and nine touchdowns in a borderline All-Pac-10 season. At 6-4 and 215 pounds, he’s a physical receiver, with the long stride to cause matchup problems for defensive backs. After scratching the surface in 2009, he’s ready to explode into a household name.
With the suspension and eventual transfer of veteran Delashaun Dean, junior David Douglas is getting looks at “Z” after spending his entire career on the inside. He played well in his first season of extensive action, catching 31 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns. At 6-1 and 198 pounds, he’s strong enough to fight through traffic and make tough grabs, and has the hands to be a sensible option on third downs.
The Wildcats have no shortage of viable options at inside receiver, a position that’ll be used liberally by Foles and the other quarterbacks. Junior David Roberts returns after finishing third on the team with 43 receptions for 410 yards and a score. A well-sized slot guy at 6-0 and 190 pounds, he has good hands and does the little things well, such as running crisp routes and blocking downfield.
Of the slot receivers, junior Bug Wright is the one most likely to snap off long runs after the catch. While only 5-9 and 175 pounds, he has outstanding straight-line speed and the ability to turn those short hitches, reverses, and slot options into back-breaking plays. After only catching 23 balls for 234 yards and a score, he’s poised for an expanded role in 2010.
Projected Top Reserves: With both Gronkowski’s, Rob and Chris, gone, the ‘Cats are auditioning players to fill the role of a quasi-tight end or H-back in the offense. The favorite to get on the field when Arizona goes big is 6-3, 255-pound senior A.J. Simmons . A letterwinner in each of the last three seasons, he’s earned a handful of starts and caught a career-best 10 balls for 132 yards and a touchdown as a junior.
Losing Dean unexpectedly means 6-0, 180-pound senior Travis Cobb will need to step up in his final season on campus. The second-year transfer from Blinn (Tex.) College has outstanding speed and a good burst in the open field, but only caught a single pass for 15 yards in his debut out of junior college.
Watch Out For .... the recovery of JUCO transfer Dexter Ransom . With questionable depth on the outside, the staff will be paying particular attention to the ACL recovery of Ransom, who was being pursued by major programs across the country. At 6-4 and 217 pounds, he has the size to be used in a number of different spots on the field.
Strength: Imposing size. With Criner standing at 6-4, Arizona can create all kinds of match up problems, especially when it gets closer to the goal line. Even Douglas and Roberts have enough muscle to box out defenders and get proper position on inside slant routes. If Ransom is healthy and gets up to speed quickly, the ‘Cats can roll out a collection of receivers that looks as if belongs at McKale Center.
Weakness: Deep threat. It’s a year later and Arizona still hasn’t adequately replaced Mike Thomas as a long-ball hitter. Criner averaged just under 13 yards a reception, leading a team that picked up less than 10 yards a reception. If the Wildcats can’t do a better job of stretching the field, all of the playmakers are going to suffer from being in tighter spaces.
Outlook: Arizona has a good set of receivers and a potential star in Criner, but as a whole, this unit needs to elevate its overall play. It has to produce more yards after the catch and ensure that giving too much attention to Criner will be costly. With Foles and so many familiar faces back in the fold, there’ll be no excuses for hitting a plateau.
Projected Starters: With four starters back from an already solid line, Arizona feels very confident about its situation in the trenches. Yeah, it loses LT Mike Diaz, but it also caught a break when senior Adam Grant was given an additional year from a medical hardship in 2007. Completely healthy for the first time in his career, he responded with an All-Pac-10 season on the right side and is set to relocate in order to protect Nick Foles’ blindside. A 6-7, 325-pound former tight end, he has good footwork and does an excellent job in pass protection.
Senior Phillip Garciais bucking to fill the void at right tackle now that Grant has relocated. Another behemoth linemen, with a history of injury problems, he finally saw some action as a backup in 2009, earning a letter in his second year removed from Cerritos (Calif.) College. If he can remain healthy all year and improve his technique, he has the 6-7, 330-pound frame and raw power to attract some interest from NFL scouts in his final season of eligibility.
The rock in the middle for the Wildcats is 6-4, 295-pound senior Colin Baxter , a versatile veteran and a reigning All-Pac-10 second team selection. Entering his third season as a starter, he’s an ideal figure at the pivot, bringing the leadership of a team captain and the durability that this unit desperately needs. He’s got the strong hands of a former wrestler and enough flexibility to do the splits, a unique combination for a lineman. Quick off the snap and tough at the point of contact, he’s poised for a return engagement on the all-conference team.
At guard, junior Vaughn Dotsy and senior Conan Amituanai are set to reprise their roles as the starters on the inside of the line. At 6-5 and 335 pounds, Dotsy is an old-fashioned road grader, who’s beginning to peak at the midway point of his college career and is surprisingly light on his feet for such a big man. If he can use the offseason to heal an injured back and become a little more consistent, he could be destined for all-star recognition as well.
Amituanai has made an impressive ascent since making the move from defensive tackle to left guard a couple of years ago. A 6-4, 335-pounder, he has the upper body strength to dominate his man, especially on north-south running plays. When he locks on to an opposing linemen, he’s tough to disengage from, giving the backs enough time to scoot through the opening in the defense.
Projected Top Reserves: The Wildcats’ most experienced tackle off the bench will be 6-8, 310-pound senior Jack Julsing, who played in a bunch of games in his first year out of College of the Desert. A quality pass protector, with a long reach, he’ll have to prepare as if he’s going to start since Grant and Garcia have such a long history for being brittle.
Sophomore Kyle Quinnlettered last season and is viewed as the heir apparent to Baxter at center once the season is over. A squat 6-2, 310-pounder, he’ll contribute on special teams and can also be plugged in at guard if needed.
The hope around Tucson is that sophomore Trace Biskin can make his way into the rotation after using last season as a time to get bigger and learn the offense. One of the program’s better recruits from the class of 2008, he has the 6-5, 295-pound frame and quickness of a tackle, yet will vie for playing time at guard in the preseason.
Watch Out For .... the development of rookie Trent Spurgeon . How thin are the ‘Cats at tackle? Spurgeon has yet to set foot on campus, yet is already being viewed as a possible backup to Grant at left tackle. One of the most heralded recruits from this latest class, he’ll need to add weight and digest the playbook before closing the door on a redshirt season.
Strength: Pure power. Forget the finesse that used to characterize Arizona fronts. These last two versions have been flush with massive blockers, who are capable of dominating the line of scrimmage. If all five favorites hold on to their jobs, the Wildcats will begin the season with four starting linemen tipping the Toledos at somewhere north of 325 pounds.
Weakness: Injuries. This is a concern that the program hasn’t been able to escape the last few seasons. Everyone will hold their breath until Grant and Garcia make it through an entire without going on the shelf. And Dotsy is on the mend following back surgery. Arizona isn’t so flush with veteran backups that it can afford losing a regular for an extended period of time.
Outlook: Assuming everyone is at full strength, which is no sure thing, Arizona boasts the raw ingredients of one of the Pac-10’s best offensive lines. The ‘Cats can blow people off the line with their size, yet also do a fine job of protecting the pocket. The goals are to get everyone healthy and development a B team that can step into the huddle in the event of an emergency.