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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Familiar faces bring comfort

    Jake Lacey / Arizona Daily Wildcat
    Jake Lacey
    Jake Lacey / Arizona Daily Wildcat

    Two practices into its 2006 spring schedule, the Arizona football team has already fallen into a comfort zone.

    But while that concept might have resulted in dropped passes, blown defensive assignments and a general on-field malaise during the last two inconsistency-plagued seasons, coaches and players now have reason to think positively.

    For evidence, look no further than the status of freshman quarterback Willie Tuitama, who after a solid freshman season succeeded former walk-on Adam Austin, a junior, as this year’s first-string spring signal-caller.

    “”It’s good to know that your starting quarterback is going to go through winter conditioning and then go through spring ball because you’re going to depend on him in the fall,”” said Arizona offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Canales. “”It’s good for him to sit in that spot because it builds leadership and builds the trust in the players.””

    While the Wildcats return 17 starters, the most crucial to their success may be Tuitama.

    The Stockton, Calif., native threw for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns over the final five games of last season in place of former starter Richard Kovalcheck, who as the top quarterback last spring sat out with a back injury and has since left the team.

    “”I’m definitely a lot more comfortable,”” Tuitama said. “”I come out here, I know I’m the No. 1 guy.””

    Even so, Tuitama said he has sought the advice of his peers to improve his skill set. He stayed an extra 15 minutes after last night’s practice to work on throwing accuracy with Austin, a teammate and good friend.

    “”When we’re in there watching film with coach Canales and by ourselves, we just talk to each other,”” Tuitama said. “”When I’m out here on the field and there’s someone open I don’t see, he’ll let me know and vice versa.””

    Stoops said Tuitama gained a few extra pounds of muscle during winter workouts – all the better to shoulder the responsibility of lifting his team beyond the 3-8 records of 2004 and 2005.

    “”I’m fine with it because I want to be out here. I want to lead the team,”” Tuitama said of his new responsibility. “”I want to be the one that everyone looks up to to make the big play.””

    Backfield battle heating up

    Redshirt sophomore running back Chris Henry acknowledged yesterday that the Wildcats have three gifted candidates to replace Mike Bell, the fifth-leading rusher in team history.

    He said he’s looking forward to the challenge.

    “”We’re all going to compete with each other,”” Henry said of redshirt freshmen running backs Xavier Smith and Terry Longbons. “”It’s a crowded backfield, but it’s a competitive backfield, so we are going to make each other work hard.””

    Henry, who was listed No. 1 on the depth chart before spring practices began, said in addition to addressing his chiseled, 215-pound physique in the offseason, he worked on fundamentals and learning to better recognize defenses.

    Still, even after seeing field action in all of the team’s 11 games in 2005, Henry said he didn’t feel like the early favorite for the starting job.

    “”I don’t feel like nothing,”” he said. “”The job is wide open. We’ve all worked hard to get the spot. By us competing and working hard, we’re all going to make each other better.””

    Backup TEs impressing in place of injured Wood

    Junior tight end Brad Wood proved to be a worthy successor to fan favorite Steve Fleming last season, leading the team with six touchdown receptions.

    Sidelined by a knee injury suffered in the Wildcats’ season finale against ASU, Wood remains a spectator, as backups junior Brandyn McCall and redshirt freshman Travis Bell have played well in his absence, Canales said.

    “”He’s running really well, probably better than when he got here last year, so I’m really pleased with that,”” Canales said of McCall. “”Travis Bell, he’s put on some pounds, looks stronger, looks healthy and he’s running good routes.””

    Canales said both players remind him of Wood in different respects: McCall has the foot speed, and Bell has an ideal 6-foot-6 frame.

    “”It’s going to be nice to have some depth because you want to play with tight ends,”” he said. “”Tight ends are deadly weapons in this day and age.””

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