March 2, 2009
TUCSON - The University of Arizona football team opens spring practice Wednesday afternoon, with 15 sessions slated for the next month as the Cats try to build on momentum gained with a fifth-place Pac-10 finish and a bowl championship over Brigham Young in the Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl.
Some 83 players will be on hand for drills, which culminate -- sort of -- with the Spring Game on Saturday, April 4. Because of a lull while school is out for Spring Break later this month, the team will hold two practices after the Spring Game.
2009 Arizona Spring Football
Head Coach (Alma Mater, Year): Mike Stoops (Iowa '86)
Record at Arizona (Years): 25-34 (5 years)
Bowl Record at Arizona: 1-0 Record, Overall (Years): 25-34 (5 years)
Record vs. Pac-10 Schools (17-26) - Arizona State: 2-3. California: 2-3. Oregon: 2-3. Oregon State: 1-4. Stanford: 1-3. UCLA: 3-2. USC: 0-5. Washington: 3-2. Washington State: 3-1.
Assistant Coaches (Alma Mater, Year): Mark Stoops (Iowa '89), defensive coordinator/DBs, 6th year; Sonny Dykes (Texas Tech `93), offensive coordinator/QBs, 3rd year; Bill Bedenbaugh (Iowa Wesleyan `95), running game coordinator, offensive line, 3rd year; Jeff Hammerschmidt (Arizona `91), special teams coordinator/DEs, 2nd year; Tim Kish (Bowling Green '76), assistant head coach, linebackers, 6th year; Seth Littrell (Oklahoma `00), tight ends/RBs, 1st year; David Nichol (Texas Tech '99), outside receivers, 2nd year; TBA, inside receivers, 1st year; Mike Tuiasosopo (Pacific Lutheran '89), defensive line, 6th year; Frank Buffano (Arizona `06), defensive graduate assistant, 2nd year; Matt Rice (UW-Whitewater), offensive graduate assistant, 2nd year. Erick Harper (Kansas State '92), director of football operations, 6th year; Bill Baker (Arizona '77), assistant director of football operations/personnel, 3rd year; Corey Edmond (North Carolina State '93), football strength coach, 6th year; Brian Odom (Southeastern Oklahoma '04), assistant football strength coach, 5th year.
Stadium (Year Built): Arizona Stadium (1929) Location: UA campus; Tucson, Ariz.
Stadium Capacity (Record Attendance): 57,400 (59, 920) Field Surface: Natural grass
2008 Overall Record: 8-5
2008 Pac-10 Record: 5-4, fifth
2008 Final National Ranking: None; 2008 Highest Ranking: NR; Most Previous Ranking: No. 24 (AP, Oct. 2000)
2008 Bowl Appearance: Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl, beat # 17 BYU, 31-21
Offensive Formation: Multiple-Spread
Defensive Formation: Multiple 4-3
Offensive Starters Returning: (7) - TE Rob Gronkowski, So., 6-6, 265, 2L; WR Terrell Turner, Sr., 6-2, 190, 3L; RB Nic Grigsby, Jr., 5-10, 190, 2L; C Blake Kerley, Sr., 6-2, 290, 3L; C/G Colin Baxter, Jr., 6-4, 295, 2L; OG Mike Diaz, 6-65, 320, Sr., 1L; WR Delashaun Dean, Jr., 6-4, 202, 2L. Other Starts of note: RT Adam Grant, Sr., 6-6, 325, Sr., 2L (5 starts in `08), projected '09 starter.
Defensive Starters Returning: (7) - CB Devin Ross, Sr., 5-11, 175, 3L; ; SS Cam Nelson, Sr., 6-1, 202, 3L; DE Brooks Reed, Jr., 6-3, 256, 2L; DE Ricky Elmore, Jr., 6-5, 250, 2L; DT Earl Mitchell, Sr., 6-2, 295, 3L; DT Kaniela Tuipulotu, 6-2, 300, Jr., 2L; LB Xavier Kelley, Sr., 5-11, 215. Other Starts of note: DT Donald Horton, Sr., 6-0, 275, 3L (6 starts `08); DB Corey Hall, 5-10, 201, Sr., 3L, (9 starts in '07-08 as nickel), LB Sterling Lewis, Sr., 5-11, 225, 1L (5 starts `08).
Specialty Returnees: P Keenyn Crier (Jr-2L), PK Alex Zendejas (So., 1L); LS Jason Bertoni (Sr.-1L); KR Keola Antolin (So.-1L); KR Bug Wright (So.-1L). Lost: PK Jason Bondzio, KR Mike Thomas. Zendejas kicked PATs and kickoffs (10 total) only in '08.
Returning Lettermen: 51 (24 offense, 24 defense, 3 specialists)
Lettermen Lost: 13 (8 offense, 4 defense, 1 kicker)
Top Freshmen: Ath Adam Hall, LB Trevor Erno, DT Sione Tuihalamaka, RB Daniel Jenkins, RB Kylan Butler , DE Jackson Powell
All-America Candidates: TE Rob Gronkowski-Jr., CB Devin Ross-Sr., P Keenyn Crier-Jr., RB Nic Grigsby-Jr., DT Earl Mitchell-Sr., DE Brooks Reed-Jr.
All-Pac-10 Candidates: WR Delashaun Dean-Jr.; WR Terrell Turner-Sr; Cam Nelson, Sr.; KR Keola Antolin-So., C Colin Baxter-Jr., LB Xavier Kelley-Sr., LB Sterling Lewis-Sr.; LB Vuna Tuihalamaka-Sr.
LEAGUE SERIES INFORMATION
All-Time Record vs. Pac-10 Schools: ASU: 45-36-1. California: 13-13-2. Oregon: 15-19. OSU: 20-11-1. Stanford: 13-11. UCLA: 12-19-2. USC: 6-26. Washington: 8-16-1. WSU: 23-13.
Last Victory vs. Pac-10 Schools: ASU: 31-10, 2008. California: 42-27, 2008. Oregon: 34-24, 2007. OSU: 29-27, 2005. Stanford: 20-7, 2006. UCLA: 31-10, 2008. USC: 31-15, 2000. Washington: 48-14, 2008. WSU: 59-28, 2008.
Most Points Scored vs. Pac-10 Schools: ASU: 67, 1946. California: 55, 1996. Oregon: 45, 2008. OSU: 50, 1983. Stanford: 41, 1982. UCLA: 52, 2005. USC: 41, 1982. Washington: 48, 2007 and 2008. WSU: 59, 2008.
Most Points Allowed vs. Pac-10 Schools: ASU: 61, 1951. California: 56, 1996 (3 OT). Oregon: 63, 2001. OSU: 52, 2003. Stanford: 51, 2001. UCLA: 54, 1991. USC: 78, 1928. Washington: 58, 1997. WSU: 48, 2001.
Longest Winning Streak vs. Pac-10 Schools: ASU: 11. California: 4. Oregon: 4. OSU: 12. Stanford: 6; USC: 2. Washington: 2 (twice, and active). WSU: 4 (twice). Longest Losing Streak vs. Pac-10 Schools: ASU: 9. California: 4. Oregon: 7. OSU: 5. Stanford: 2, (twice, active). UCLA: 4. USC: 9. Washington: 5. WSU: 4. 2009
Arizona Football Outlook
*The Arizona Wildcats are better for their Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl championship over No. 17 BYU than can be imagined. The albatross of nine years of holidays at home flew the coop with the dominant showing in Las Vegas. Winning the final two games of the year gave the program some serious momentum. The Pac-10 went 5-0 in 2008 bowl games and Arizona owns a piece of the pie. The effect cannot be understated.
*Arizona enters the post-Willie Tuitama era at quarterback. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound passer started at the end of his true freshman year (2005) and afterward, spending the last two running the UA's multiple spread. Spring ball could be a long enough exam to determine whether true sophomore Matt Scott, Tuitama's '08 backup, or redshirt transfer sophomore Nick Foles (Michigan State) has a leg up. Scott (6-3, 190) is a mobile passer who rushed for a team-best 8.2 yards on the move 23 times in 2008; Foles is a big (6-5, 235) rawboned dude who can get some steam on the ball. They make for an outstanding twosome. Offensive coaches are eager to see their young talent at work every day. One thing about Scott: he'll no doubt be one of the best athletes on the squad. Foles' arm has been back-room talk since he showed up last August to sit out his transfer year. A third sophomore, Bryson Beirne (6-3, 225), has been around offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes more than the other guys and knows the system.
*Arizona's `spread' offense was more of a power game, thanks in part to All-American tight end Rob Gronkowski, a junior to be, and a focus on being physical enough in short yardage to make a difference. The Cats rushed for 33 touchdowns while Tuitama threw for 23. He continued to set nearly all Arizona passing records, albeit in support of a more rugged style. The quarterback who gets the nod Sept. 5 against Central Michigan could be a key to what the Cats do in the backfield, but UA will continue to be able to run the ball. UA had a 3:2 pass-run ratio in building its 5000 yards (402.4 ypg) offensive system. No one expects a drop in production.
*Speaking of offense, Arizona has one. Two years ago the Wildcats rated around 100 in the FBS in passing (94), total offense (115), rushing (110) and scoring (105). Ouch. This past year UA checked in at 16th in scoring (37 ppg), 33rd in total offense (402 ypg), 36th in passing (244 ypg), and 48th in rushing (153 ypg). The improvement coincided with the arrival of current offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes, line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, inside receivers coach Michael Smith, outside receivers coach Dave Nichol (a grad assistant in 2007), and some increased influence lent by (former) tight ends/RBs coach Dana Dimel in the adoption of a different scheme. It's still evolving and will under a new quarterback, but the system has definitely turned one corner - putting points on the board. UA averaged 17 points in 2006 and an average of 33 points the last two seasons.
*Rob Gronkowski, junior tight end, should be the best in the nation at his position. He's a monster in the running game, handles Pac-10 defensive ends and blitzers in pass-pro action, and at a swift 6-foot-6, 265, can get open. He can catch the ball, and yards after catch come easily to a guy who can run people over. He can play tight, split or slotted and slant, post or break with anyone. His 10 receiving TDs led UA in 2008 and helped earn him third-team AP All-America honors. Twice he was John Mackey National Tight End of the Week. He has 75 career catches for 1,197 yards and 16 scores as a youngster and now is a man. It's said he'll be a first-round NFL pick, whenever that day arrives. But he'll be at Arizona in 2009 and clearly will be one of the best players in the country. Big Rob's the reigning first-team All-Pac-10 guy and it's not in question for the coming season.
*Junior Nic Grigsby rushed for 1,153 yards at a 5.4 clip a year ago, while then true freshman Keola Antolin added 525 in a supporting role. They'll be part of what happens. Seniors Xavier Smith and Nick Booth, redshirt freshman big back Greg Nwoko and incoming frosh Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler should make for a solid corps of runners. Grigsby scored 13 touchdowns in 2008 to help boost his big-play stock, but Antolin had 10 TDs on 100 fewer carries. In the past two years Grigsby and Antolin had outstanding production as true freshmen.
*The guy on Willie Tuitama's blind side for the past two years, LT Eben Britton, took his past production and future promise to the NFL Draft a year early. Arizona's other tackle, James Tretheway, graduated, so Grant might stay on the right side. Re-working the offensive line with the losses of those two and 40-game guard starter Joe Longacre, is a top concern in spring ball and fall camp. UA returns some people and recruited a pair of juco tackles at mid-year. Senior center Blake Kerley might be recovered enough from an '08 knee surgery by fall to retake his position, otherwise junior Colin Baxter returns for his third year of starting (one at guard, one at center). Senior Adam Grant, who started five 2008 games at RT before an injury, is back. Senior Mike Diaz took over the left guard role a few games into 2008 and will be a factor. Coaches expect some strong pushing from sophomore Vaughn Dotsy at RG, and redshirt frosh Trace Biskin at RT. Redshirt juco tackle Phillip Garcia likely will battle for the top left tackle role with mid-year recruit Jack Julsing. The Cats will have some experience to anchor the line, and need the new talent to jell.
*Senior cornerback Devin Ross returns as the top cover guy in the secondary, with senior safety Cam Nelson also back. Senior Corey Hall has played nickel back for two years and will be penciled in at the LB spot he replaces. Sophomore Robert Golden gets his first chance at showcasing his prep All-America talents, but will get the shot at strong safety. UA has some depth with corners Trevin Wade (soph) and Marcus Benjamin (mid-year juco), plus junior Mike Turner back on the field after a 2008 suspension. Junior Joe Perkins and senior Anthony Wilcox are No. 2 at the safety spots. Everyone's a letterman except Benjamin so UA's secondary will not be in a rebuilding mode despite the loss of Nate Ness (FS) and Marquis Hundley (CB). Tito Foster, a special teams flyer of note, and redshirt freshman Mark Watley will get opportunities at safety as well.
*Senior defensive tackle Earl Mitchell's 2008 move from tight end to DT worked, and Arizona returns six interior and four exterior men who have played on the front. Inside, four guys - Mitchell, Kaniela Tuipulotu, Donald Horton and Lolomana Mikaele - have started before. Outside, junior DE Brooks Reed could be the most dynamic. He came on strong and led the squad with eight sacks and 10 tackles for loss as a sophomore. He's a pressure guy who can run and hit. Ricky Elmore started opposite him and soph Apaiata Tuihalamaka is in the DE mix along with junior D'Aundre Reed, both with Pac-10 experience. Mikaele was slotted to start in 2008 and while eligible to play he sat out the year due to an administrative issue. He's another game-ready guy - played as a true freshman in 2007 -- added to the mix.
*Speaking of Foles, the quarterback transfer from Austin by way of East Lansing -- UA also picked up a four-year transfer from the Bay Area in August `08, defensive end Scott Smith, who redshirted his freshman year at California after prepping in Hawai'i. The 6-6, 260-pound newcomer is slotted behind two other DEs on the depth chart but showed a year ago that like Foles he's a big, rangy athlete. You can't get too much defensive line depth and Smith is a physically ready newcomer of note who will get very close scrutiny in spring and beyond.
*All-league guys Willie Tuitama (2nd team) and Mike Thomas (1st team WR and PR) are gone, but everyone else who handled the ball is back. Whoever ends up throwing, it's clear who will end up joining Rob Gronkowski catching passes - junior receiver Delashaun Dean (90 catches the last two years) and senior Terrell Turner (94 grabs the last two years). The elder Gronkowski, H-back Chris, turned into a big-play (25 yards per catch) occasional target who can break into the patterns and make teams pay for double coverage elsewhere. Sophomore lettermen Bug Wright, Juron Criner, David Douglas and David Roberts also will vie for routes and balls in the receiving corps. Tailbacks Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin combined for 19 receptions in 2008 after Grigsby snared 35 alone as a true freshman in the pass-happy 2007 inaugural year of the UA spread. The aforementioned emphasis on running the ball might point more toward the former than the latter.
*One thing Arizona wants to repeat is its Red Zone success. In '08 the Cats were sixth nationally with a 92 percent effectiveness. Running the ball (33 rushing scores) had a lot to do with it. UA scored 45 touchdowns on 60 possessions inside the opponents' 20 yard-line. That was among 56 offensive touchdowns, so much of the time UA drove down the field into the red zone and kept going. Throw in 10 field goals and the Cats only missed on five RZ trips. Four of those were self-inflicted run-out-the-clock at the end of periods. If being able to power people is the key, that's where the focus will lie. Moving the ball when the field closes down was a strength UA will again emphasize.
*Arizona has beaten ranked teams each of Mike Stoops' five years in Tucson. Last year it was No.17 BYU and No. 25 California. The Pac-10 will have its share of ranked squads in 2009, if the 5-0 league bowl record means anything to observers, so more opportunities will come.
*It's not very common for any team of late, but some day Arizona will again beat USC. The Wildcats have not beaten the Trojans in seven tries since 2000, losing the last two by seven points. In 2008, beating USC almost was enough to help Oregon State earn a Rose Bowl berth (but then of course it had to beat Oregon to get there). And therein lies another fact of life in the Pac-10. You can talk about how good your defense is, and how your team plays tough against the pass or against the run... and then someone puts up 50 points on you. The Cats dumped 42 on a good Cal team, held SC to 17, and then went to Eugene and played a 1,000-yard contest that the Ducks won in the final minutes, 55-45. (UO later pummeled OSU with 65 points... and the Trojans went to Pasadena.) Defense in the Pac-10 in recent years has seemingly come down to one basic: give your offense a chance to score the winning points, and don't belabor the angst in between. Arizona ranked 24th nationally in total defense last year and presumes it can do it again, or better. But end-of-year figures are one thing and an occasional November donnybrook is another. You have to live with it. (Southern California, to its credit, led the league in all five major defensive categories, so it earned its keep.)
*Scheduling again gives Arizona a chance. The Cats play a three-segment season: four games and then a bye, three games and then a bye, and five games down the stretch. UA opens against Central Michigan and Northern Arizona at home, and then travels to Iowa and Oregon State. October is a road game at Washington and Stanford/UCLA at home. The November stretch is WSU, at Cal, Oregon, at ASU and at USC on Dec. 5. Six of those clubs played in 2008 bowls and this year pundits might say eight of them could get there. Arizona knows as well as any team in the Pac-10 that when you're down, you get your butt kicked. Kicking some of the downs is imperative for 2009 improvement in Tucson. *Close is for horseshoes, etc. UA lost a trio of games by a touchdown or less - by one point at Stanford, by two points to Oregon State and by seven to USC. The Cats lost by eight at New Mexico, and 10 at Oregon. Again, as in recent years, taking advantage of late possessions and playing defense down the stretch in the waning moments can make a difference here. The Cats are learning, notably considering that three of those close games came against three of the 2008 upper division squads in the Pac-10.
*Recruiting is going well in Tucson. Stoops and his staff have ignored other opinions and recruited people they like and players they've evaluated. Each class in five years has brought in immediate skill-position difference makers, young linemen who can grow and learn, and football players who can help Arizona win. This is not to diminish the all-world groups full of Rob Gronkowskis signed by others, but a normal college football game involves about 45 guys and if they're on the same page in your development programs and practice preparation, you can win. Last year Arizona used 12 of its 2008 signees in their first year in the program, with several such as RB Keola Antolin, OG Mike Diaz and LB Sterling Lewis ascending to key roles, with LB Vuna Tuiahalamaka, WR Juron Criner and QB Matt Scott playing strong supporting roles, among others.
*Hopefully the name counts for sophomore place kicker Alex Zendejas, whose uncle Max Zendejas is the storied Arizona Sports Hall of Fame kicker in UA annals. Zendejas got some mop-time extra points (5-for-5), a pooch punt and five kickoffs in his redshirt freshman year in 2008, but has not attempted a field goal. He apprenticed behind Jason Bondzio for two years, and if he was paying attention he'll be fine. Bondzio was 14 for 16 last year to set school season and career field goal percentage records. Meantime, UA's junior punter, Keenyn Crier (1st-team All-Pac-10 as a freshman) has a career 43.8 average and is super. He's a Ray Guy Award candidate, and was previously. Assistant coach Jeff Hammerschmidt did a solid job with special teams and Arizona has been able to make a difference with those units. Frosh running back Keola Antolin and frosh receiver Big Wright showed some spark in the return game and could win key roles in that regard.
*The Arizona coaching staff has a good blend of experience and youth. Stoops had to replace departed Dana Dimel (TEs/RBs) and Michael Smith (inside receivers) who both took jobs with Kansas State, and hired a young Texas Tech spread guy, Seth Littrell, to replace Dimel and is in the process of replacing Smith. Otherwise the combined man-years on the job in Tucson is 27. The staff has some big influences -- Big 12, Big Ten and Big East -- but it's a Pac-10 group now, one that fully understands the Left Coast style of preparation, strategy and play.
Roster Breakdown By Class
Seniors: Jason Bertoni-LS, Nick Booth-RB, Mike Diaz-OG, Adam Grant-OT, Chris Gronkowski-HB, Corey Hall-S, Herman Hall-OL, Donald Horton-DT, Xavier Kelley-LB, Blake Kerley-C, Sterling Lewis-LB, Edwin Lopez-HB, Earl Mitchell-DT, Cam Nelson-S, Rod Rivera-WR, Devin Ross-CB, Brandon Tatum-S, Shawn Trowbridge-WR, Vuna Tuihalamaka-LB, Terrell Turner-WR, Anthony Wilcox-CB, Ricky Wolder-LS
Juniors: Haig Abnous-DB, Conan Amituanai-OL, Colin Baxter-OG, Marcus Benjamin-CB, Travis Cobb-WR, Keenyn Crier-P, Kyle Day-WR, Delashaun Dean-WR, Ricky Elmore-DE, Trevor Foster-DB, Phillip Garcia-OT, Nic Grigsby-RB, Rob Gronkowski-TE, Jovon Hayes-OL, Jonathan Hollins-DT, Jack Julsing-OT, Tyler Lyon-TE, Lolomana Mikaele-DT, Kevin Morris-RB, C.J. Parish-LB, Joe Perkins-S, Brad Posten-WR, Brooks Reed-DE, D'Aundre Reed-DE, A.J. Simmons-TE, Kaniela Tuipulotu-DT, Mike Turner-CB, Bobby Wuertz-LB, Victor Yates-DB.
Sophomores: Keola Antolin-RB, Domininque Austin-DE, Bryson Beirne-QB, Juron Criner-WR, Vaughn Dotsy-OG, David Douglas-WR, Nick Foles-QB, Robert Golden-CB, Jaryd Hickman-DE, Joe Reese-RB, David Roberts-WR, Matt Scott-QB, Scott Smith-DE, Apaiata Tuihalamaka-LB, Orlando Vargas-DB, Devin Veal-WR, Giacomo Vitko-RB, Trevin Wade-CB, Jowyn Ward-DT, Bug Wright-WR, Alex Zendejas-PK, Shane Zink-OT
Redshirt Freshmen: Kenny Barnes-DE, Trace Biskin-OT, Adam Gottschalk-S, David Highberger-LS, Solomon Koehler-OL, Chris Merrill-DL, Greg Nwoko-RB, Kyle Quinn-OL, Eric Rouse-OL, Justin Salum-RB, Mark Watley-DB, R.J. Young-LB
Freshmen: Jake Baratz-Ol, Jack Baucus-TE, Eric Bender-Ramsay-OL, Kylan Butler-RB, Trevor Erno-LB, Jake Fischer-LB, Cordarius Golston-LB, Adam Hall-DB, Daniel Jenkins-RB, Trevor Laue-OL, Terrence Miller-TE, Ryan Milus-DB, Richard Morrison-QB, DeWayne Peace-WR, Jackson Powell-DE, Chris Putton-OL, Derrick Rainey-WR, Sione Tuihalamaka-DT, Taimi Tutogi-DE, Justin Washington-DE
Roster By Home State: California-42, Texas-25, Arizona-14, Illinois/Hawaii-5, Washington-3, New York/Louisiana/Nevada/Florida-2, Oklahoma/Colorado/North Carolina-1. Puerto Rico-1.
More Personnel Notes... Coaches are switching sophomore Robert Golden from cornerback to strong safety in camp to try to get him on the field more regularly early in his career. He played as a true freshman on kicking units and as a backup CB, where Arizona's staff has typically relied only on veterans after the first Mike Stoops season in 2004 when then freshmen Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot manned the edges... Safety Corey Hall, one of the team's veteran leaders and a nine-game starter at nickel back, is slotted at strongside linebacker where he'd function as the NB...
...Soph Trevin Wade - who had four picks as a backup last year - and mid-year juco All-America transfer Marcus Benjamin should wage a heated battle for supremacy opposite senior All-Pac-10 corner Devin Ross... Some feel redshirt freshman RB Greg Nwoko might cross train as the motion back, where senior Chris Gronkowski has a firm grip on the job following his big-play '08 campaign when he proved instrumental in the running game as well as a deep-read and occasional hot target in the passing game...
...Junior running back Nic Grigsby's 1,000-yard season in '08 portends a potential repeat this year and beyond, as long as he can hold off some very stiff competition from soph Keola Antolin, Nwoko and some talented newcomers. Grigsby is a dangerous outside threat, while Antolin seems more adept at running inside to break free. Nwoko's said to be a load with speed to be both a smashmouth guy and breakaway threat...
...Arizona's quarterback situation is good, just that there's little proof. Matt Scott showed he's not going to stand around and be sacked - he ran for 188 yards underscoring that one. He has 11 career passing attempts, following a guy with 1,200 (Willie Tuitama) so there are some questions. Soph Nick Foles has eight attempts under his belt, at Michigan State in 2007. Offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes is exceptionally eager to get going with quarterback number two in the Mike Stoops era. He's a firm believer that either guy has all the tools to run his stuff... One reason is junior tight end Rob Gronkowski, a guy with 75 catches and 16 scores in two seasons who's capable of those numbers in one year - which reportedly could be his last go-round before turning to Sunday ball. The somewhat obscured ability at the top of his talents is blocking. He's an every-down player who helps everything go. UA fans want to see him get the ball 15 times and while that may not happen he's going to help a young quarterback find his way... The guy behind him, junior A.J. Simmons, is more than solid and can be a help in 2009...
...Arizona's projected offensive line starters check in with 1,600 pounds of bulk, an average of 320 pounds and 6-foot-5 across the front... The loss of tackles Eben Britton (NFL) and James Tretheway will have an impact, but it's not insurmountable by any stretch. Britton was a special talent (1st-team all-league), Tretheway worked hard... In spring ball and fall camp a year ago, Tretheway lost his LT job to Britton and his RT job to Adam Grant. After the latter was hurt in his fifth start, Tretheway took over and wouldn't be dislodged. Grant had never played before that junior-year debut. The guys in the program who are being counted on in 2009 have solid underpinnings in terms of development and ability, and line coach Bill Bedenbaugh will find the right mix by September. Center Blake Kerley was lost to injury after four games and junior Colin Baxter (24 starts overall) took over; senior guard Mike Diaz took Baxter's role and had a fine 2008 after mid-year enrollment from junior college. Grant's back. Phillip Garcia, Vaughn Dotsy, Trace Biskin, Conan Amituanai and others are ready to step up... The Cats signed offensive lineman Eric Bender-Ramsay after the NLI date and he'll arrive in the fall...
...Defensive end Brooks Reed should give Arizona a whirlwind on the edge. He had eight sacks after a learning-the-ropes slow start (1 sack through first six games) a year ago and got better and better. He should be a major disruptive force and contend for the league sack title... His mates, juniors Ricky Elmore and D'Aundre Reed, and soph Apaiata Tuihalamaka, are vets, too... In between those guys is another group of veterans, led by senior tackle Earl Mitchell, one-time tight end who should be an all-conference pick in 2009. As on the outside, UA will have good depth to keep the interior tackles fresh. Senior Donald Horton, juniors Kaniela Tuipulotu and Lolomana Mikaele and youngsters Jowyn Ward and Dominique Austin all will factor. This situation underscores some recruiting and developmental success UA has enjoyed - finding young players and making them Pac-10 ready. Along the defensive front, this is a potential league luxury...
...Junior Delashaun Dean (90 career grabs) and senior Terrell Turner (94) each can catch the ball on the outside, and this year get to see if the emphasis moves more that way than in the departed Mike Thomas iterations of the offense. They and young guys Juron Criner and Devin Veal, among others, will work to develop chemistry with the new quarterback... So, too, will inside receivers David Douglas, Bug Wright and David Roberts, all sophs...
...Sterling Lewis, Vuna Tuihalamaka and Xavier Kelley give Arizona one sure facet in the linebacking corps - swiftness to the ball. UA's speed here showed up in the Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl, swarming BYU's offensive attack and neutralizing a lot of its short-game tactics... Building some depth here will be a key, and might have to wait until fall ball and the arrival of four freshman recruits... Kelley's the senior elder and a guy with keen knowledge of UA's system. He had a career-best 15 tackles in the bowl game... Tuihalamaka was a blazing downfield force on kicking units along with some backup work in 2008, while Lewis was a major contributor in his first season after a juco career...
...Junior punter Keenyn Crier was a first-team All-Pac-10 pick as a freshman and honorable mention selection in 2008. He's a 43.8 career kicker with hang time and the ability to give or keep field position... Soph placekicker Alex Zendejas will have to fill the shoes of Groza Award semifinalist Jason Bondzio, but got some PAT and kickoff work in 2008 to get the jitters out...
Spring Practice - Tentative Schedule Wednesday, March 4 Friday, March 6 Saturday, March 7 Monday, March 9 Wednesday, March 11 (scrimmage) [Saturday, March 14 - Pro Timing Day] Thursday, March 12 (Spring Break) Monday, March 23 Wednesday, March 25 Friday, March 27 Saturday, March 28 Monday, March 30 Wednesday, April 1 [Friday, April 3 - Football Alumni Golf] Saturday, April 4 - Spring Game Monday, April 6 Wednesday, April 8