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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona football: Wildcats’ offensive line believes it can be a top unit in college football

Courtney Talak
Arizona offensive linemen Feddie Tagaloa and Jacob Alsadek pose for a photo before practice on Friday, Aug. 5, 2016.

Preseason rankings and predictions are generally seen to be trivial, but Arizona’s offensive line doesn’t take too kindly where the critics are placing their unit.

Offensive line coach Jim Michalczik showed every offensive lineman an article listing the top offensive lines in college football — a list in which Arizona was nowhere to be found.

Redshirt senior Freddie Tagaloa wants that to change by season’s end.

“There was an article released that [coach Michalczik] shared with us naming the top 15 offensive linemen in the country — Clemson, Alabama, Auburn — after the season hopefully we can be mentioned among those offensive lines, so that’s our goal,” Tagaloa said.

The offensive line is arguably the most underappreciated unit in football, and while Arizona’s offense relies on the quarterback to extend plays, it’s the offensive line that allows — or prevents — the quarterback from doing so.

Of course, with the college football season just a few weeks away and Arizona closing in on its season opener in Glendale against BYU, the quarterback battle between Anu Solomon and Brandon Dawkins will be under the microscope.

Meanwhile, the battle in the trenches for the starting roles on the offensive line could potentially make or break Arizona’s season, and if there’s anything the Wildcats can lean on, it’s the experience returning up front.

Arizona returns six offensive linemen that played a significant amount of snaps last season.

The offensive line was plagued with injuries in 2015, forcing a plethora of linemen into action, but a new season with everyone healthy is a competitive blessing.

“There’s a lot of competition and everyone’s been working hard in the weight room all summer and conditioning, so there’s a lot of players that could be switched in and out during the season,” said Zach Hemmila, who is in competition for the starting center spot.

Jacob Alsadek, Layth Friekh and Gerhard de Beer will look to rotate at tackle this fall, but with Arizona’s recent history of injuries, there’s no such thing as having enough linemen.

That’s where freshman tackle Keenan Walker — a former four-star recruit — could come into place, but his troubled summer has led him to the doghouse.

Walker, who was forced to sit out last season due to an ACL injury, was arrested for assaulting a bouncer at a bar in Old Town Scottsdale in July, and his future with the program is murky.

Walker was present for the team’s first practice of the season on Thursday, but he did not participate, and it’s not clear when — or if— he’ll be back on the field in an Arizona uniform.

“[Walker] is not in camp and I can’t tell you if he’s going to be in camp,” head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Right now he’s walking around with the strength coaches and trainers and getting to know them on a good basis.”

If Arizona’s big guys up front can stay healthy and out of trouble, then this unit may be a force to be reckoned with.

On the surface — and in the preseason rankings — Arizona’s offensive line appears to be neglected, but players like Hemmila are more focused on clocking in, putting in work and letting the team’s record at the end of the season do the talking.

“The whole [offensive line] is overlooked, but that’s a part of the business and we know that going in so it’s not that big of a deal,” Hemmila said.

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