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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona football positional grades

Offensive line

Arizona’s offensive line is arguably the most important part of the offense. Their up-tempo style of play creates a strong workload in terms of number of plays each game.

The spread option that the Wildcats run also requires the line to open up running lanes for the running backs and quarterback Anu Solomon, should he choose to run. 

It’s a difficult offense to block in as a lineman, but when good things happen, the Wildcats find success. 

The offensive line has already had its fair share of shake ups to start the season: Center Carter Wood is out for the year with a chronic foot injury; senior guard Cayman Bundage moved over to center in his place; redshirt junior Zach Hemmila is the new projected starter at left guard.

Redshirt junior Freddie Tagaloa, the transfer student from California, is the projected starter at left tackle. Tagaloa started seven games and played in 23 of 24 games for Cal. 

On the right side, the projected starters are redshirt sophomore Jacob Alsadek at guard and redshirt senior Lene Maiava at tackle. Alsadek started in 11 games and played in 12 in 2014 while Maiava played in all 14 games. 

I would give the o-line a higher grade if there was not a question at the center. Early reports say Bundage has adapted well, which would be vital for success. The Wildcats have key returners to their line. If this offensive line plays like they did last year, Arizona’s offense will be fun to watch.

Grade: B-


Running backs

Arizona fans have been blessed with strong running backs over the past three years. Ka’Deem Carey shredded defenses left and right for two seasons and became a two-time All-American for the Wildcats. Once Carey left for the NFL, it became interesting to see who his replacement would be. 

Nick Wilson showed up last year in a big way. Wilson started eight games for the Wildcats last year and played in 13 of them. Wilson broke the yardage record for a freshman with 1,375 yards and also scored 16 touchdowns. 

Wilson was part of an offense that ranked 15th in total offensive yardage last season. With his first year a successful one, Wilson’s sophomore season could be even better.

Redshirt senior Jared Baker will also see some snaps at running back. Baker played in all 14 games last season, and has run for 326 yards and three touchdowns in his career, two of which he scored last year. Freshman Orlando Bradford is the projected third back on the depth chart.

This running back crew is solid with good experience. They will be tough to stop for opposing defenses this upcoming year.

Grade: A


Secondary

Arizona brings in a veteran group of defensive backs with a wealth of experience.

 Senior Will Parks is the projected starter at the spur position. Redshirt junior Tellas Jones is expected to start at the bandit spot and senior Jamar Allah is projected at free safety. 

Redshirt junior DaVonte’ Neal played wide receiver for the Wildcats last season but has switched to the defensive side of the ball. Neal is expected to start at the right cornerback position. 

The youngest member of this secondary is freshman Sammy Morrison. Morrison is listed on the depth chart ahead of sophomore Cam Denson, who started two games for the Wildcats last year. These two could swap starts throughout the season, but for now, the depth chart has Morrison in front. 

Parks started all 14 games last year for the Wildcats and his defensive presence was strong. He totaled 81 tackles and had two interceptions. Jones and Allah also played in all 14 games last year. This returning group has played together in the past and they have a lot of experience on the field together. 

This unit will need to be strong, especially when going up against Pac-12 Conference quarterbacks like Cody Kessler and Mike Bercovici. Neal and Morrison’s inexperience bring up questions. However, if they adapt quickly, and Denson is thrown into the mix as well, this group could wreak havoc on opposing offenses.

Grade: B


Wide receivers

With very few departures for the Wildcats at receiver, Arizona should have been in a good place at the wide receiver position. That was until multiple injuries to starters occurred during the preseason. 

With Trey Griffey and Tyrell Johnson out for a few weeks due to foot injuries, Arizona must now rely on others to carry their weight. Johnson may be a big loss due to his speed, and Griffey was one of the most experienced returning receivers. 

There is still plenty of talent at the position, beginning with the return of All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention Cayleb Jones. Jones was Arizona’s leading receiver last year with 1,019 yards and scored nine touchdowns. Jones and quarterback Anu Solomon will be sure to hookup for many of the Wildcats’ touchdowns this season. 

The UA also returns junior Samajie Grant, who started in 11 of 13 games last year. Grant caught six touchdown passes last year, including a pair against ASU.

Depth might be an issue at the beginning of the season, but Arizona has enough leaders at receiver who can carry them until these two can return. 

Grade: B+


Special teams

Arizona is not exactly known for its stellar special teams, but this year, it looks like the Wildcats should be in good shape at both punter and kicker. 

Tucson native Drew Riggleman enters his senior season at punter for the UA. Last year, Riggleman ranked among the top punters in the nation with an average 46.1 yards per punt mark. 

If Riggleman can continue to push back opposing offenses deep into their own territory, the Wildcats defense will get a head start in limiting red zone trips. 

At kicker, fan-favorite Casey Skowron enters his final year at Arizona after a redshirt junior campaign in which led the Pac-12 Conference with 123 points.

Skowron’s best game last year came against Washington, when he ran for a touchdown on a fake-call and later kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired. 

If 2015 is anything like last season, the Wildcats will again find themselves in their fair share of close games; meaning Skowron will be asked to produce under pressure. 

On the receiving end of special teams, expect DaVonte’ Neal to again be Arizona’s go-to returner. Neal struggled at times on special teams last season, botching a few punts, but he also showed hints of explosiveness. He took an 81-yard punt return to the house against Washington State. 

Grade: A-


Quarterbacks 

For once in the Rich Rodriguez era, there is a returning quarterback. 

After dealing with a carousel of different quarterbacks, Rodriguez will depend on Anu Solomon to take Arizona to bigger heights. Rodriguez has taken a different approach in coaching Solomon and has embraced an in-your-face coaching style to push the young quarterback. 

Unlike last season, the quarterback position isn’t overcrowded. Usually, a coach would prefer the depth at the quarterback position. This season, everyone on the depth chart understands their position, which can be beneficial for everyone. 

Jerrard Randall could possibly see time this season handling specific packages in the Wildcat offense. Randall transferred from LSU, played as a backup his first season last year and will play a pivotal role for Arizona this season. 

Brandon Dawkins’ role is essential because he can finally understand the true coaching style of Rodriguez, which will be beneficial for Arizona once Solomon leaves for the NFL. Dawkins has the same role Cam Newton had when he was a reserve for Tim Tebow at Florida, except Dawkins will be patient for playing time rather than transferring.  

If the season plays in favor for the Wildcats, Solomon might just be the player to set the bar high for future quarterbacks. 

Grade: A


Defensive line 

The defensive line poses many concerns, especially once the Wildcats begin Pac-12 Conference play. Just like the defensive backs, there is a completely new batch of players receiving playing time. The athletic abilities that are placed on the gritty defensive line will give Scooby Wright III a breather. 

One playmaker for the Wildcats this season will be Reggie Gilbert. This will be his last season with the Wildcats and finishing on a high note could open NFL scouts’ eyes. 

Even though Gilbert will be playing for a NFL contract, he will have to put the load on his back and carry the young Wildcats to set the blueprint for future success. 

One scare for this young line is going to be Stanford in the first Pac-12 road game of the season. Stanford has a reputation for having a consistently tough offensive line.

Three defensive linemen going toe-to-toe with five of some of the best offensive linemen in the conference will be the biggest test of the season for Arizona. If the line stays healthy and hold their own, Arizona’s defense could be placed on another level.  

Grade: B-  


Linebackers

The linebacker core could be one of Arizona’s many bright points this season.

Talking about this Arizona linebacker core starts and ends with one name: Scooby. Scooby Wright III filled the shoes, and some, of Jake Fischer last season and put together an All-American campaign. Wright is a junior now, and as his role on the team gets even bigger as the target on his back increases. 

Last season Wright was playing sideline to sideline, and now there’s a different vibe when watching him in practice. From a naked eye, he looks as if he’s bulking up to enter his name in the NFL Draft. 

Now that he’s nearly NFL bound, he leads a slim group of linebackers. Cody Ippolito went down with a tear in his ACL last week in practice. On top of that, Jamardre Cobb was transitioned from linebacker to full back. So the Wildcats must stay healthy this season in order for that core to anchor the Wildcat defense. 

Wright is poised to be a candidate for the Heisman Trophy, and if he can miraculously improve significantly from last season, then Arizona might find themselves in the hunt for the College Football Playoff. 

Grade: A-


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