Offense leads the way for Arizona football positional rankings
Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon (12) gets ready to pass during a game against Utah on Nov 14, 2015 at Arizona Stadium.
Another season, another quarterback competition, such is the style of Rich Rodriguez. This year, it is Brandon Dawkins who takes on the role of hot trend, supplanting the departed Jerrard Randle.
Dawkins will look to build off of his game against ASU last season and replace Solomon as the teams’ leader. However, questions still remain about Dawkins’ ability to run the offense the way RichRod would like.
Solomon, on the other hand, is as solid an option as they come, minus the health problems. He has a proven track record and is battle-tested. The biggest knock on him has been health issues, including a concussion that knocked him out of the lineup last year.
The Wildcats went three deep at the position last season, so it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility to see true freshman Khalil Tate on the field this year.
If the Wildcats stay healthy, they have the quarterbacks needed to have a good year and are in a much better position than they were a season ago.
Offensive linemen: B-
Arizona’s offensive line has clear goals: emerge as a top-15 unit in college football and become the engine to Arizona’s high-powered offense. With the tragic loss of potential starting center Zach Hemmila, the men in the trenches are looking to play with more vengeance and a chip on their shoulder.
This season’s offensive line will provide more depth and since the injury bug caught more players than expected last season, essentially throwing inexperienced players into the fire, the hell storm from just a year ago will provide more seasoned players. The offensive line will contain a constant rotation of fresh legs, which will be useful come November.
The Wildcats return Freddie Tagaloa and Jacob Alsadek, who will both look to be the vocal leaders of the unit. Another play that will have his voice heard is redshirt junior Gerhard de Beer, who couldn’t even put on his pads in his first season with the Wildcats. De Beer has gained significant progress coming from South Africa to Tucson and will most likely start week one.
Running backs: B-
Arizona’s running backs this year are going to be small and powerful, but their success will come down to junior Nick Wilson’s health. If he can stay healthy, he could match the dominance of his freshman season when he rushed for 1,375 yards and scored 16 touchdowns.
During his sophomore year, Wilson missed four games due to injuries. In the nine games he started, Wilson had 134 rush attempts and rushed for 760 yards. When healthy, he is one of the best running backs in the Pac-12 Conference.
Wilson is Arizona’s starting running back, but being injury prone means more snaps for the sophomore Orlando Bradford. As the third option last year, Bradford only had 47 snaps, but showed starting potential. He also stepped up in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl when he gained 61 yards on 11 carries.
True freshman J.J. Taylor has impressed the coaching staff in practice thus far. At 5-foot-6 and 170 pounds, Taylor isn’t a physically imposing player, but his quickness makes him hard to tackle. It wont be a surprise to see this guy getting some snaps early this season.
Wide receivers/tight ends: B-
The starting receivers are headlined by their experience, with all of the projected starters in their senior years. Trey Griffey headlines the group, making his impact averaging 25.8 yards per reception and totaling 284 receiving yards in just seven games in the 2015 season. The Wildcats are hoping for production from seniors Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant as well, who had a combined 865 yards last season.
Behind the starters are junior Cam Denson and sophomore Shun Brown. The Arizona coaching staff is hoping they can move Brown and Denson around the field to provide even more big-play possibilities. Partnered with them is newcomer Shawn Poindexter. The strength of this Wildcat’s team is their depth at receiver.
The tight end position will be a battle throughout the season, with senior Josh Kern and junior Trevor Wood jockeying for playing time. While Kern is listed as the starter, Wood is coming off a season where a shoulder injury kept him sidelined all year. With Wood healthy, the Wildcats believe they have the one-two punch they need from the tight end group.
Defensive linemen: C
This unit is without a doubt the biggest concern for Arizona this season, considering the defensive scheme will be completely new and there is lack of depth. Lack of depth means the defensive line is walking on eggshells and can’t afford a single injury this season.
Last season, the Wildcats ranked 98th in rushing defense and tied for 67th in total sacks. Arizona averaged just 2.08 sacks and allowed 198.5 rushing yards per game. The Wildcats lost leader Reggie Gilbert, who is trying to find a roster spot with the Green Bay Packers. Arizona will also lose three-star JUCO defensive end Josh Allen, who wasn’t academically cleared to play this season.
Arizona will hang its hat on Sani Fuimaono, who focused on losing weight in the off-season to play multiple positions on the defensive line.
Arizona’s defense poses question marks everywhere, but the defensive line is the biggest mystery of them all.
The Wildcats are coming off a rough year on the defensive side of the ball in 2015, but no area hurt more than the linebacker core, which saw multiple key players go down with injuries.
It started with emotional leader Scooby Wright III, who missed almost all of last season with knee and foot injuries.
To add insult to injury, the team lost Derrick Turituri four games into the season with a hip injury and saw Jake Matthews go down with a left foot injury late in the year.
The new season signifies new hope for the Wildcats’ linebackers as they are working in a completely new defensive scheme under defensive coordinator Marcel Yates.
In addition to the new look on defense, the team sees Matthews and Cody Ippolito return to full health.
But above all, the team is looking forward to the playmaking abilities of Paul Magloire Jr., who was named to the Chuck Bednarik Award watch list in July for top collegiate defensive players. Magloire, who moved from safety to linebacker last season due to a multitude of injuries, enters his first season as a hybrid linebacker.
Special teams: C-
The special team’s unit for Arizona will be making a transition to a new kicker as well as a new punter. Seeing that sophomore Josh Pollack is the only kicker on the roster, it gives cause that he will be the starter this fall.
Without a punter, the Wildcats may be forced to use Pollack in that area as well, which could see him in kickoffs, punts and spot kicks. There will be plenty of areas that may present problems for the young kicker.
Looking at who could be featured as a return man, junior wide out Tyrell Johnson will likely see a lot of action.
Special teams will be a key piece of the season. It is normally overlooked by fans until a mistake is made. For this reason and all the uncertainty behind it, this unit would appear to be the weakest on the team.
Defensive backs: C
In a season where the defense will be surrounded with question marks, the pressure will be felt by everyone on the Wildcats’ defense, mainly the secondary unit.
With most of the front seven up in the air, the defensive backs will have to step up to avoid another below average performance similar to the 2015 campaign. Expect veteran players such as senior safety Tellas Jones to lead a secondary unit that will showcase a notable amount of young and somewhat inexperienced players.
That’s not to say these new kids on the block, like Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and Dane Cruikshank, won’t answer the call. They will both look to hit the ground running after having a fantastic spring and are taking huge steps in their college careers. They will likely open the season as starters, which brings a lot of pressure.
Looking at the secondary as whole, this year’s unit should be better than last year and that’s as good as Rodriguez could hope for, seeing as the Wildcats allowed 268 passing yards per game last year.
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