Putton steps in for Arizona football's offensive line
On the converted outfield wall of Arizona’s makeshift practice field, the phrase “Pull the Rope” overlooks the players, its bold white letters standing in stark contrast to the blue mat.
The motto is both literal and symbolic — it represents both a drill designed to improve strength and a call to play with endurance.
A big part of pulling the rope, offensive line coach Robert Anae said, is that even if someone stumbles or falls down, a new set of hands has to grab on to the same spot or else it all falls apart.
After injuries hit the offensive line hard the past few weeks, the rope threatened to break loose. While the line as a whole has responded well to the challenge, one player in particular has been forced to step up to keep the rope held tight — junior Chris Putton.
Putton entered the season as Arizona’s left guard after starting there nine times in 2011. But since senior linemen Trace Biskin and Kyle Quinn fell to injuries in recent weeks, the team has had to adjust and fill in the missing gaps. It’s forced Putton to move all over the line, to both guard positions and tackle last weekend at Stanford.
“Who knows, maybe this week I’ll play a little center,” Putton said. “We’ll see.”
To the casual observer it might seem like each position on the offensive line is relatively the same, but in reality each player has a specific function on every single play.
“Some guys cannot do that,” Anae said. “Chris Putton has shown … a football IQ that’s really high. He’s also a good student and that helps too, plus he’s got a little bit of toughness in him.”
Putton played at both guard and tackle at Cactus High School in Glendale, Ariz. He was recruited to Arizona as a tackle, but when he arrived in Tucson the Mike Stoops-led coaching staff decided his 6-foot-4, 280-pound stature was too small for tackle and he was better suited for the inside of the line.
Now, four years later, Putton is back to playing tackle as well as guard, and his years of experience have helped prepare him for the challenge.
“When you’re on the line, it’s a close-knit group and I feel like you have to know what everyone is doing at the same exact time,” Putton said. “I feel like the learning curve hasn’t been as bad.”
Both Anae and quarterback Matt Scott pointed to Putton’s intelligence as a factor in his ability to move around the line.
“He’s one of the smartest kids on the team, so that gives him that ability to be multiple positions and switch around,” Scott said.
“He’s very valuable to our offensive line … He’s popping into every position he can.”
In large part because of the injuries and his ability to play multiple positions, Putton hasn’t had much of a chance to rest.
During the Wildcats’ 54-48 overtime loss to No. 18 Stanford on Saturday, Putton was one of three linemen to play all 103 offensive plays and 10 special teams plays for the Wildcats, with sophomores Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele also playing the entire game.
“Honestly at the end of the game I was ready to play, and I think we all were,” Putton said.
Arizona has a bye week before its next game against Washington, giving the line some much-needed time to heal up. But even if Putton returns to his home at left guard, his willingness to move around and help during a tough time has impressed running back Ka’Deem Carey.
“That’s one of my favorite linemen,” Carey said. “He can play anywhere and he just takes on that challenge. He’s just big, physical and loves to have fun out there. So when we move him to places like that, he loves it. He loves just being out on the field.”