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Arizona Wildcats training-camp preview: 5 key questions (No. 3)
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Arizona Wildcats training-camp preview: 5 key questions (No. 3)

Arizona Wildcats spring football scrimmage

Arizona has plenty of options - and just as many questions - on its offensive line.

The Arizona Wildcats are set to open their first training camp under Kevin Sumlin on Friday. Each day this week, we’ll ask — and answer — a key question about the 2018 Cats heading into camp.

Camp question No. 3: How challenging will it be to put together a cohesive offensive line?

No UA assistant has a tougher job this month than offensive line coach Joe Gilbert. Not only must Arizona replace three starters up front, but one of the returning starters has to sit out the first two games.

Coach Kevin Sumlin sounded at least mildly concerned about the line at Pac-12 Media Day last week.

“That’s a work in progress,” Sumlin said. “You don’t lose (three) guys and come back the same way the next year. When you lose that amount of experience … we’re working on it.”

The full-time starters who are back are left tackle Layth Friekh and center Nathan Eldridge. Unfortunately, Friekh will miss the first two games — the deal that was cut with the NCAA so Friekh could gain a fifth year of eligibility.

Friekh, a steady presence at left tackle for the past three seasons, will have to get his share of reps to be fully ready to jump back into the lineup in Week 3. But Gilbert also must get someone else prepared, and the rest of the first-team unit will have to work with both players.

“Somebody else better get a bunch of (reps) before the first two games,” Sumlin said. “There’s a way to do that. We’ll have a plan.”

The plan could involve transfer Tshiyombu Lukusa, who Sumlin acknowledged is “sort of a mystery.” Lukusa played as a true freshman at Michigan State, temporarily quit football, then decided to resume his career with the Wildcats. He redshirted last season.

Lukusa did not participate in the spring game because of a sprained ankle. But he apparently put in a lot of work during the offseason, dropping 20-plus pounds since last year.

“In his defense, some of these guys that transferred in here, they weren’t in shape,” Sumlin said. “The transfers who didn’t do much or sat out a year, it was a big summer for all these guys, particularly the offensive linemen.”

The other returning starter, Eldridge, does not fall into that category. But like Lukusa, Eldridge was limited in spring. He did not participate in either of the scrimmages open to the media.

Sumlin said the staff was “managing” Eldridge, who has “had some issues with his legs and things like that.”

“Getting him to the games is what we want to do,” Sumlin said.

Assuming Eldridge will be fine, that still leaves three other spots (plus the odd situation at left tackle). The top guards in spring were Michael Eletise and Bryson Cain. Eletise was a big-time recruit in 2016 whose time finally might be here. His classmate and buddy, Cain, missed last season because of injury. He might have been the third tackle last year if healthy. It remains to be seen how he’ll fare on the inside.

Veteran Cody Creason is the favorite to start at right tackle; he split time with Gerhard de Beer there last year and has seven career starts. Lukusa also could be a factor at right tackle once Friekh returns.

Regardless of the composition of the starting unit for the Sept. 1 opener against BYU, Arizona doesn’t have as many scholarship linemen as Sumlin would like. His target goal is 15. The Wildcats currently have 12, assuming Lukusa is on scholarship.

But even that group has asterisks. Two of the players, Donovan Laie and David Watson, are true freshmen. Another, Texas A&M transfer Robert Congel, probably won’t be eligible this season after playing in five games for the Aggies last year.

“Don’t know,” Sumlin said when asked about Congel’s eligibility.

When it comes to Arizona’s offensive line, there are a lot of unknowns.


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