Ka’Deem Carey, facing possible punishment from his offseason run-ins, may miss part or all of Friday’s opener against NAU.
The UA’s quarterback position is still unsettled, the wide receiver group has been depleted by injuries and departures, and left tackle Mickey Baucus is battling a minor injury that could keep him out of Friday’s game.
All those factors leave an intriguing player as the unit’s most reliable, consistent, versatile and productive player.
Senior Chris Putton is a motorcycle-driving, joke-telling, mountain of a man, who anchors the UA’s offensive line and — maybe now — the entire offense.
“I think it was pretty early in the process that I realized he was one of our best,” first-year offensive line coach Jim Michalczik said. “His experience makes him a great leader for this offense. He’s been around, he’s been to wars, and he has done things.”
Putton is listed on the depth chart as the team’s starting right guard. But, he could play left tackle if Baucus doesn’t or center if junior college transfer Steven Gurrola struggles. Putton could surely fill in at left guard or right tackle if needed.
His versatility is “a unique deal,” Michalczik said.
“A lot of them can play some of the positions, but he could legitimately play all five,” the coach said. “You have to have the ability to understand the offense and football as a game. Every position has their own little details that go into it. Guard, tackle and center are all different mentally, and then you multiply it with right side/left side.
“It makes it extremely difficult, but he handles it.”
Putton can also handle himself on two wheels, though it doesn’t thrill the UA’s coaches. Putton, listed at 6 feet 4 inches and 280 pounds, has been driving dirt bikes for years. He got his first street-legal motorcycle when he was 20.
Putton promises he almost always wears a helmet and appreciates the trust his coaches have in him.
“I’ve been driving on two wheels for a really long time,” Putton said. “I love it. It saves me a lot of money. I’ve been driving since I was little. I’ve never had injuries, and my coaches have talked to me about it. They trust me. They know I’m not going to do stupid stuff on it, and they know I’m a smart kid.”
They also apparently know Tucson is relatively flat.
“One of the nice things here is you don’t have hills,” Michalczik joked. “The mopeds that everyone rides scare me even more. I’ve ridden bikes before and you’re always nervous. But we trust him.”
And what’s not to trust?
Putton, in his fifth season with the UA, has played for three offensive line coaches, two head coaches and an interim coach. He has played in 26 total games and has started 17.
The Glendale Cactus High School product, who was born in Germany and moved to the Phoenix area when he was 7, was a big part of the reason why the UA averaged 38.2 points and 526.2 yards per game.
Not trusting Putton isn’t really an option for anyone in cardinal and navy.
“It’s been a crazy ride for me,” Putton said. “Three O-line coaches in five years, two different head coaches, an interim coach. I’m blessed no matter what to play here and be here and be on this team. I get to say I was on that first team that used our football facility.
“It’s been humbling watching this school come together.”
Whether Baucus plays or not, Putton will be the only senior starter on the offensive line. When Michalczik took over before spring drills, he made sure all of his players understood there were no starters. He wasn’t concerned with what happened before he got here and was going to pick the best five players to start whether they used to or not.
If Putton needed any more motivation, the veteran position coach gave it to him.
“In your job, if you mess up one day, you don’t have that position; you may be fired,” Putton said. “It’s the same on the field. If you do well one day and then not the next, someone else should get a chance. That’s what (Michalczik has) instilled in us. No one is safe.”
Except for maybe Putton.