They bid their time, now freshmen ready to contribute for Arizona football
Kyle Kelley most likely to make an impact, at defensive end
Rich Rodriguez had no choice.
With injuries all along Arizona’s roster, particularly on defense, Rodriguez had to use quite a few true freshmen before they were ready.
Offensive lineman Cayman Bundage, linebacker C.J. Dozier and safeties Vince Miles and Wayne Capers Jr. were all playing significant roles.
That’s not to mention safety William Parks and linebackers Dakota Conwell and Keoni Bush-Loo, who had spurts of playing time too.
“We didn’t have a lot of depth last year and our kids had to take a lot of reps,” Rodriguez said. “But the good thing about that is we were able to get those guys reps. The only way to get better is to get reps, learn from the mistakes, learn from doing it right.”
On the bright side, the Wildcats return almost every player from their two-deep, with notable departures coming from defensive linemen Willie Mobley and Dominique Austin.
For the players that weren’t thrust into playing time, though, and were instead redshirted, the spring is their chance to prove themselves, and to show whether they used that year off to their advantage.
Especially because, as Rodriguez has said, there is no depth chart right now. Everyone is fighting for a job.
“[Coach Rodriguez] said we’re not going to have a depth. That’s how I like it, I want guys to compete,” new offensive line coach Jim Michalczik said.
Here’s a look at a few of the notable redshirt freshmen fighting for playing time:
Position: Defensive end
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 243 pounds
If Kelley wants playing time early in his career at the UA, he picked the right position. The Wildcats’ defensive line was easily its weakest last season — Arizona was last in the Pac-12 with 16 sacks. But, injuries were a factor. And they still are now.
Defensive end Dan Pettinato is expected to miss the season with a knee injury and Kirifi Taula (shoulder) is out for the spring.
Kelly had 87 tackles and 22 sacks as a senior at Woodbridge High School in Irvine, Calif., and has impressed thus far in the spring.
“He’s gonna be a good player,” said defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich. “He’s not there yet, but I like his approach to the game.”
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 187 pounds
The Wildcats receiving corps is deep, but there’s always room for another playmaker. Griffey, the son of future MLB Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., caught 73 balls for 970 yards and 11 touchdowns in his senior season at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla.
“He’s very coachable, and there’s no question I think he’s going to be able to help us this year,” Rodriguez said.
Position: Running Back
Height/Weight: 5-foot-7, 156 pounds
In the fall, former Arizona receiver Dan Buckner called J.T. Washington a “human joystick”.
In other words — he’s quick, and he’s fast. Just look at his 4.4 second 40-yard dash.
“J.T. is so quick,” said Javelle Allen, a redshirt freshman quarterback. “I’ve never seen nobody as quick as he is. I just want to watch him play, I’m glad he’s on my team.”
Washington, a scat back from Indialantic, Fla., likely won’t get much playing time in the backfield.
For one, Ka’Deem Carey gets the lion’s share of carries. Which is to be expected, being an All-American and all.
Plus, the Wildcats will have Pierre Cormier, a four-star recruit from San Diego, joining the fray in the fall.
So, for playing time, Washington will probably have to fight for a kick return role.
Beau Boyster and Zach Hemmila
Position: Offensive Linemen
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 329 pounds (Hemmila); 6-foot-4, 264 pounds (Boyster)
Kyle Quinn and Trace Biskin are gone, so that leaves holes at both right guard and center, and a bevy of offensive lineman on the roster fighting for them.
More interesting will be the battle at center, where Quinn has been the line’s anchor for the last few years.
Boyster is considered one of a few candidates for the role, the others being starting guard Chris Putton, tackle Mickey Baucus, junior transfer center Steven Gurrola, Jacob Arzouman and Trent Spurgeon.
Even if Putton or Baucus wins the job, that leaves an opening at left guard or tackle.
Boyster and Hemmilia are candidates to fill one, or both. “Beau is a young guy who has some athletic ability,” said Michalczik.
Added right tackle Fabbians Ebbele: “I’m pretty sure they can contribute right now. With that year off they really got a chance to understand the game, understand the scheme that was coming in, gave them time to get stronger.”