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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


‘Cats boast formidable five-man offensive front

Last season, the focus of the Arizona offensive line was on left tackle Eben Britton, and rightfully so.

Britton was thought to be one of the top offensive linemen in all of college football, and he was selected in the second round of the NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Because  Britton was such a talent, he overshadowed the other players on the Wildcats’ offensive front.

“”He just got a lot of praise because he was one hell of a player, but this year everybody is playing together,”” said left tackle Mike Diaz. “”We played together last year too, but he stuck out like a sore thumb because he was a man playing with children.””

But this year’s group of Arizona offensive linemen has the potential to be better as a whole than last year’s group, according to offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. With Diaz — who played at left guard last season —?playing at left tackle, other players have an opportunity to step up. Redshirt senior Adam Grant is healthy and performing well at right tackle, and sophomore Vaughn Dotsy had a good summer and fall camp at right guard. But the play of another right guard, Conan Amituanai, could be the most pleasant surprise, especially considering the way the unit has jelled since spring practices.

“”The thing about this group is the chemistry. They’re great guys to be around, they’re fun to work with, they want to be great and they all hang out together. That’s what you have to do as an offensive line,”” Bedenbaugh said. “”You have to trust each other. I don’t know that we have anyone stand out right now, I think all five of them are solid.””

At 6-foot-4 and 335 pounds, Amituanai was recruited to play defensive line or tight end, but two years ago started learning how to play offensive line. Throughout summer and fall camp, Amituanai’s hard work paid off and he worked his way into the starting lineup at left guard — at least for now.

“”So far I’m starting but Coach Bill has always told me that the spots are never for sure; I could lose it in a minute if I don’t come focused the next day,”” Amituanai said. “”Coach Bill’s biggest thing is that we all have to be prepared. We never know when our time is coming, and we just have to be prepared every day because you never know what’s going to happen.””

An example of that would be last year’s 31-10 Arizona win at UCLA. UA starting center Blake Kerley was knocked out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, forcing Colin Baxter to switch from guard to center. Baxter, now a junior, excelled at center for the remaining nine games of the season and will lead this year’s offensive line as the unit’s starting center.

“”I’m in … more of a leadership role now,”” Baxter said of starting his first full season at center for the Wildcats. “”I’ve been around and I’m one of the more experienced guys, so I have to take on more a leadership role. But also that kind of comes with being a center.””

Baxter, despite having limited playing time at center, was named to the 2009 Rimington Trophy watchlist — an award given out annually to the nation’s top center. But he won’t bask in the limelight and neither will any of his teammates. That’s not the way Bedenbaugh coaches.

“”I don’t worry about attention. If we play good, and we get the yards and we protect the quarterback, it’s going to be fine,”” Bedenbaugh said. “”The thing about this group is that it’s five guys who have to do their job. It doesn’t matter how good one guy is because if the other four aren’t good, then it doesn’t matter.””

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