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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Four things to watch at start of spring ball

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Gordon Bates
Gordon Bates / Arizona Summer Wildcat

With all eyes on Arizona men’s basketball and its Sweet 16 matchup with Duke, Wildcat football is quietly at work as head coach Mike Stoops and his team kicked off its 2011 spring season on Monday.

Arizona will practice four days a week for the next four weeks and eventually cap things off with the April 16 Spring Game at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats return 12 starters and have stability at quarterback and wide receiver, but there are a handful of story lines to keep an eye on as spring ball gets underway.

1. Is Dan Buckner as advertised?

The 6-foot-4 receiver has to be the most well-known Arizona football player never to play a down in Arizona Stadium. Stoops and his players have been raving about Buckner’s ability since he stepped foot in Tucson and he finally has the chance to show off those No. 1 receiver skills after the University of Texas transfer was forced to sit out last season.

Buckner, who caught 44 passes for 445 yards and four touchdowns during his sophomore season with the Longhorns, gives Arizona a second top-notch receiver next to Juron Criner. After spending last season on the scout team, it will be interesting to see how he meshes with Nick Foles while finding a way to coexist with Criner on the opposite side.

Stoops expects this to be Arizona’s best receiving corps since he joined Arizona, and Buckner should be a big reason why.

2. Who will replace Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore?

Arizona has had stability at the defensive end for the last four seasons, but with Ricky Elmore, Brooks Reed and D’Aundre Reed pursuing their NFL careers, the Wildcats are extremely thin on the outside.

That trio combined for 19.5 of Arizona’s 33 sacks in 2010, but now Stoops must turn to unproven ends to step up. At his season wrap-up press conference, Stoops mentioned senior defensive end Mohammed Usman and defensive tackles Justin Washington and Dominique Austin as possible candidates.

The Wildcats have a handful of freshmen defensive ends coming in next season, but for now guys like Usman, Austin and Washington will have a shot to prove their worth at the defensive end.

3. Anae and the offensive line

By far, Arizona’s biggest weakness heading into spring ball is its lack of an offensive line. The Wildcats lost their entire offensive line from last year’s team and its first-year offensive line coach Robert Anae’s job to re-tool Foles’ protection.

Junior center Kyle Quinn will compete with transfer Addison Bachman for the starting center job and the Wildcats have a host of young guards and tackles to fill out the rest of the line.

Mickey Baucus, Fabbians Ebbele, Trent Spurgeon and Shane Zink are expected to compete at tackle and Chris Putton, Carter Lees, Trace Biskin, Jake Baratz and Eric Bender-Ramsay should contend at guard.

4. Walters and his youthful secondary

Although Stoops raves about his future, former graduate assistant Ryan Walters is still in his first year as a full-time coach. The 25-year-old is heavily respected by coaches and players, but it remains to be seen how he’ll fare with a larger role.

He’ll also have the duty of helping young defensive backs like Shaquille Richardson, Marquis Flowers and Jonathan McKnight develop heading into their second season.

The Wildcats are seasoned at the corner position with seniors Robert Golden and Trevin Wade, but all of the young talent needs to be developed and spring ball is the perfect time to do that.

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