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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Offensive line sports rare experience

    In Arizona’s exhilarating spread offense most of the attention – if not all of it – lays with the quarterback and receivers. The skill players are the ones carrying the ball and seemingly making all of the big plays.

    It is perhaps the most important unit on the offense, however, that is often overlooked: the offensive line.

    While providing ample protection for the quarterback and making holes for the running backs may not be the most stimulating thing to watch, it is Arizona’s offensive line that may be the most critical to the Wildcats’ aerial attack.

    The most important difference about this year’s men in the trenches is that they are finally experienced.

    “”It is going to be a very solid group, and I am excited about the progress those guys have made,”” said Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes about the offensive linemen. “”This year they have a lot of leadership and a lot of toughness, and that is exactly what you need from your offensive line.””

    Coming into last season, Arizona had only one senior in the offensive trenches in three-year-starting left tackle Peter Graniello, who served as everyone’s leader on the offensive line.

    This season Arizona finds itself in a very favorable position as it welcomes back four starters from last season’s line in left tackle Eben Britton, left guard Colin Baxter, center Blake Kerley, and right guard Joe Longacre.

    “”Things are going great. We are all as prepared as we have ever been, and we had a great camp and we are very excited about this season,”” Kerley said. “”There is a lot of enthusiasm every day, and everyone is happy to be there, and it is just a totally different situation.

    “”It will be weird not having Pete (Graniello) around,”” Kerley said. “”Pete’s my boy, but it is kind of part of the game. You need to grow up and move on. … We will be fine.””

    Now Arizona sports an offensive line that doesn’t have a starter younger than a junior, which is undoubtedly a luxury for the program, given the Wildcats have become accustomed to inexperience at that position over the past few years.

    What’s more, everyone has leadership skills.

    If there had to be a single leader on this year’s unit, however, it would be Britton, who will take over the left tackle position Graniello left open upon graduation.

    “”I am excited about it,”” Britton said of assuming the leader role on the offensive line. “”It is our time to shine as an offensive line, and we are going to make sure that we can take the team on our back and take them as far as we can.

    “”We are really excited about the season because we have worked our butts off all summer,”” Britton added. “”I have always loved being a leader, and it just comes natural. It’s not something I have always looked to do; it just kind of falls in my lap. I have no problem with that because I like that role and I think that’s how I fit in.””

    The only newcomer to Arizona’s line this year is Adam Grant, whose performance coaches have been raving about ever since the conclusion of fall camp.

    Grant, who has spent more than a year recovering from knee injuries, will assume the starting role at right tackle, though there may be some substitution at the position.

    It has been a long road for Grant, but he is excited to finally be in good enough shape to contribute to the Arizona offensive line.

    “”I am happy the coaches took the time to let me develop, because obviously my injures have held me back for a couple of years now,”” Grant said. “”I think I had a pretty good camp considering I haven’t taken a snap in over a year.

    “”It was pretty tough,”” Grant added about coming back from injury. “”I had some moments where I was thinking that it might be it for me, but I just kept pushing.””

    There is no telling how Arizona’s line will respond with experience a year after giving up 31 sacks in 12 games (92nd in the county), but the group is confident as ever.

    “”It is a very exciting time right now with the season around the corner,”” Longacre said. “”We had a great camp with everybody back but Pete. We should do some good things this year.””

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