TUCSON--Arizona culminates its 15-session spring football practice with a pair of practices Wednesday and Thursday, a day off Friday when the Football Alumni Golf tournament takes place, then wraps it all up Saturday with the Spring Game at 1 p.m. in Arizona Stadium.
Head coach Mike Stoops will meet with reporters Thursday morning to recap developments during spring ball -- which by earlier accounts appear to be as expected and steady-as-she-goes. Depth chart moves have been a matter of nuance, in the expected development by young guys.
Two features have emerged, for sure. One is that the good health of the starting linebacking trio of juniors Spencer Larsen and Dane Krogtad, and sophomore Ronnie Palmer, has been a huge plus for the development of the defense, according to Stoops. The group missed a combined 17 starts and 14 games in 2005 and never did start together side by side.
For a coach whose recent background included seasons as defensive coordinator with the likes of Butkus Award winner Rocky Calmus and fellow NFL draftees Brandon Moore and Torrence Marshall at linebacker positions for the Oklahoma Sooners, the lack of a consistent unit in the second tier of defense was hard to overcome against the offensive wizardry faced weekly in the Pac-10. UA faithful should see the unit evolve into more of a force this year, a solid complement to a strong secondary and improved front.
The other big story is about the big guys. Arizona's offensive line depth -- thought to be a reality for the first time in Stoops' tenure -- has been underscored in spring ball. Solid showings by a number of guys have given offensive coaches reason to believe the unit could develop into a formidable force.
Senior right tackle Tanner Bell, senior center Erick Levitre and junior left tackle Peter Graniello appear to have a firm grip on starting roles. But they've been pushed hard by, respectively, redshirt freshman Adam Grant, redshirt freshman Blake Kerley and redshirt freshman Eben Britton. Senior Adam Hawes has been sidelined some at left guard, and sophomores Bill Wacholz and Eddie Rollmann have made moves. At right guard, sophomore Joe Longacre and redshirt freshman Daniel Borg appear near even, while redshirt freshman Joe Barresi also has developed. Mid-year transfer James Tretheway has worked at tackle and guard and also belongs in the group Stoops terms some of the best young linemen he's ever seen, anywhere. That's a baker's dozen of players whose talent line coach Eric Wolford respects.
No big news here: sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama, who pushed himself to center stage with his five-game debut late last year, is clearly the guy. Senior defensive end Marcus Smith looks as if he's ready for a big year. Receivers Syndric Steptoe, Anthony Johnson, Mike Thomas and B.J. Dennard can help Willie move the ball. Senior kicker Nick Folk will have his best year.
Check back on Thursday for a report on Mike Stoops' observations