Five practices into spring drills, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez still has no idea who the quarterback will be for his Wildcats in the fall.
But he does know this: The offensive line must keep whomever the man ends up being on his feet and give him time to throw.
“Whether it’s a veteran or a rookie, they will benefit from good play up front,” said Rodriguez, whose team is off for the week because of spring break. “That’s the key. I think our schemes are so simple that we shouldn’t have a whole bunch of confusion up front. What we hope doesn’t happen in the spring is to have a lot of mental breakdowns up front and everything looks like a cluster.”
The offensive line will be anchored in the fall by a pair of senior tackles, Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele, and senior center Steven Gurrola. Junior Cayman Bundage will return at left guard, and junior Lene Maiava has the inside track at the right guard spot, vacated by Chris Putton.
So it stands to reason the line should be a strong point for the Wildcats this season, and spring should be going smoothly with an experienced group and a simple scheme.
But things don’t always work out as they should, and Rodriguez, as he has been with most position groups this spring, has been displeased with the offensive line at times.
“It’s soft at times,” Rodriguez said. “It resembles a pillow fight, a marshmallow-eating contest, a swimming relay at times. At other times, it’s aggressive. Some of the guys are aggressive all the time, and some guys I have to say ‘sic ’em’ when I’d rather say ‘whoa.’
“We’ve gotten stronger up front, but we’re still too weak. We have (only) one guy that benches over 400 pounds. Are you kidding me?”
Rodriguez is hopeful the group up front will continue to get stronger and be the strong unit it should be with so many upperclassmen. Baucus and Ebbele have combined to start 75 games; Gurrola started all 13 games at center last season, his first with the Wildcats; and Bundage has started 14 games in his career. Maiava also has experience, playing in 15 games in two seasons with a pair of starts.
“They’ll get better,” Rodriguez said. “It should be a good group by the end.”
In the meantime, the Star chatted with Baucus, who leads all the linemen with 38 career starts.
On having so many guys back on the line: “It definitely makes things easier. With the exception of Chris leaving, the four of us (Baucus, Ebbele, Gurrola and Bundage) have played a year together and have communicated with each other. Lene has been stepping in at right guard, and he has a ton of experience. It’s nice to have a deep group of experienced guys, and the young guys have shown they can step up and contribute, which makes us all better.”
On how having the experience with the other linemen helps: “You don’t have to talk the whole time. You know where the other guy is going to be. If it’s a combo block, I know where the guy next to me, Cayman, is going to be. It just helps getting reps and feeling comfortable with the other guys. I think it gives us a leg up.”
On if the spring ever gets boring as a player who is going through his fourth set of spring drills: “We try and find different ways to motivate each other, so it doesn’t get boring and monotonous. We’ll have competitions to see who can get the most pancake blocks or who sprung the most touchdowns. It really helps to keep the high level of intensity and enthusiasm that we need to have because it can get flat. We’ve been there and done that, and at the end of the day, you don’t have an opponent to play at the end of the week. It’s just the same guys on the other side of the ball every day. But if we up the intensity and push each other, things fall into place.”
On Maiava working with the first group: “He’s a great fit. He’s got experience playing, and he’s had a big offseason. He’s a big, strong, physical guy, who is filling in nicely for Chris. We also have some young guys that are competing to push him. None of our spots, including mine, is guaranteed. We all have to earn them.”