Editor’s note: This is the latest in a weeklong positional preview series. We’ll look at Arizona’s personnel at each spot and break it down. Today, we look at the UA’s offensive line and tight ends. Up next: The defensive line and linebackers on Thursday.
There are two terms you never want associated with your team’s offensive line: pillow fights and marshmallow-eating contests.
Yet in the spring when UA coach Rich Rodriguez was describing his group up front, he used both.
“It’s soft at times,” Rodriguez said then. “It resembles a pillow fight, a marshmallow-eating contest, a swimming relay at times.”
The Wildcats weren’t always that soft, but they too often failed to meet their coach’s expectations.
So when Arizona opens camp this weekend, the goal for the big boys up front is simple: Keep the pillows at the dorm and save the marshmallows for dessert.
That shouldn’t be too difficult.
Arizona’s offensive line returns four starters — Steven Gurrola, Cayman Bundage, Fabbians Ebbele and Mickey Baucus — who have combined for 102 career starts. Lene Maiava, who has 15 career games to his credit, is also in the mix for playing time.
Here’s a closer look at the offensive line and tight ends.
Center: Starter: Steven Gurrola; Backup: Carter Wood
Guards: Starters: Cayman Bundage and Jacob Alsadek; Backups: Zach Hemmila and Lene Maiava
Tackles: Starters: Fabbians Ebbele and Mickey Baucus; Backups: Jacob Arzouman and Faitele Faafoi
Breakdown: There shouldn’t be a lot of drama with Arizona’s offensive line this season.
Both tackle spots are set, thanks to seniors Ebbele and Baucus. Baucus has made 38 straight starts at left tackle and has proven to be reliable. At 6 feet 8 inches and 305 pounds, he has close to ideal size for the position and has improved his strength and athleticism over the past year. Ebbele has 37 career starts to his credit. He had a midseason slump last season where he lost some playing time to Maiava, but straightened out his season and played nearly every down the last few weeks.
Bundage and Gurrola are also experienced, having combined for 27 career starts.
Rodriguez said Alsadek and Maiava will be “the main two guys competing” at the other guard spot. Maiava seemed to be the favorite heading into the spring, with Alsadek grabbing that title by the end of it.
Rodriguez said he didn’t expect incoming freshman tackle Jordan Poland (6-7, 361) to play as a true freshman, but guard Levi Walton (6-2, 282) could.
He said it: “We have a lot more bodies here than we used to. Mickey and ‘Fabbo,’ they’ve been playing for three years, but they weren’t strong enough when we first got here. They didn’t dominate. They need to dominate this year. I’ve heard both of those guys had a good summer, which is good. Gurrola wasn’t even on the roster this time last year, but he’s got a good idea of what’s going on now. We also have a few freshmen in the mix who we’re excited about.” — Rodriguez
Starter: Josh Kern; Backup: Trevor Wood
Breakdown: Wood, listed at 6-5 inches and 247 pounds, gives Rodriguez a type of athlete he hasn’t had in his first two years at Arizona. The former Scottsdale Chaparral High star can line up in the slot and be a mismatch for an extra corner or a safety, or he can stay in tight and help block.
Eventually, this will be Wood’s position, and you should see a lot of him on the field.
But when Arizona opens camp Saturday, don’t be surprised if Kern gets first-team reps. The converted quarterback spent last season learning his new position, and should have a strong grasp of what Rodriguez and tight ends coach Charlie Ragle want from him. Kern suffered an injury in the spring and missed a few weeks of practice, so he needs a healthy and productive fall. At 6-5, 206, Kern is still looking to add muscle and help with the blocking game.
Arizona navigated last season without a true tight end and counted on Terrence Miller to play the position in certain formations. The Wildcats could do that again this season, but Rodriguez has insisted he’s eager to use a real right end in his offense.
He said it: “I don’t have a lot of hair to begin with, but I should be able to stop pulling out what I have in the fall when Trevor gets here and Josh gets healthy. I like some of the guys we have here, they just don’t have a lot of experience.” — Ragle during spring drills.