Who says two-a-days are a thing of the past?
With the Arizona Wildcats set to start spring practice on Monday, March 18, we’re going to get you ready by previewing two positions per day this week. We’ll start on offense before working our way to the other side of the ball.
Key returnees: Steven Bailey (6-3, 318, RS JR), Edgar Burrola (6-5, 287, RS SO), Bryson Cain (6-4, 306, RS JR), Robert Congel (6-3, 315, RS SO), Cody Creason (6-4, 294, RS SR), Donovan Laie (6-4, 318, SO), Josh McCauley (6-3, 292, RS JR), David Watson (6-5, 307, RS FR)
Key newcomers: Josh Donovan* (6-6, 310, JR), Paiton Fears* (6-6, 320, JR), Jordan Morgan (6-5, 270, FR), Jamari Williams (6-3, 310, FR)
The big question: With their new additions, have the Wildcats adequately addressed their depth issues up front?
In a word … no.
Despite directly and aggressively tackling a major team need with two JC transfers and two high school recruits, Arizona remains several bodies short of the desired 15 scholarship offensive linemen.
To put it in simple mathematical terms: The Wildcats have added as many linemen as they’ve lost (at least as of this writing).
Besides the four newcomers listed above, we’re putting Congel in that category. He transferred to Arizona last year but had to sit out the season per NCAA rules. He’s eligible for 2019.
- The Wildcats lost starting left tackle Layth Friekh to graduation.
- Former starting center Nathan Eldridge, who sat out last season because of injuries, transferred to Oregon State.
- Michael Eletise, a former four-star recruit who started three of the final four games last season, transferred to Hawaii.
- Tshiyombu Lukusa, who started the first two games, reportedly has entered the NCAA transfer portal.
- And Alex Kosinski, a veteran with experience as a reserve who didn’t play last season, has graduated and elected not to use his remaining eligibility.
That’s five in … and five out. Which leaves Arizona with 12 viable linemen. And that number includes a player who hurt his knee late in the season (Cain) and two true freshmen at a position where physical development is paramount and redshirting is preferred.
Were some of the departures preventable? Perhaps. But the truth is, the previous regime did not sufficiently supply the roster with a stockpile of linemen. It was always going to take multiple recruiting classes to solve that problem.
Arizona conceivably could add a graduate transfer or two. There are still plenty of linemen available on the market, according to GradTransferTracker.com. Whether any of them are any good isn’t quite as clear, but a case could be made that the Wildcats just need some additional bodies, especially if the investment is short term.
Arizona has the makings of a good starting unit. Laie showed he could play either tackle spot, and he should only get better. Creason has been through the wars at tackle and guard. McCauley – who started every game at center, the only UA linemen to open every game at the same position – proved he’s worthy of a scholarship.
Add Congel, Donovan and Fears to that group, and you’ve got six physically developed candidates for the five starting jobs. If one or two of the younger players develops, you’ve got a decent rotation. But if multiple injuries hit … trouble.
That’s the situation new line coach Kyle DeVan inherits. He comes to Tucson with impressive credentials as a player and coach. He has worked under/with some of the sharpest offensive minds in the sport.
The Arizona offensive line was coached up in a major way last season by Joe Gilbert, with help from analyst Harold Goodwin. Both are part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff now, Gilbert as the OL coach, Goodwin as the assistant head coach/run-game coordinator.
Gilbert and Goodwin showed you can overcome depth issues and other problems with expert coaching and personnel management. Despite a makeshift line, Arizona led the Pac-12 in rushing yards and total offense.
The Wildcats didn’t have 15 scholarship linemen a year ago, and they got by. It’s just not a formula for sustained success.
UA SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW