This has become the golden question surrounding the Arizona Wildcats and its offense game plan: will this finally be the year where the Wildcats utilize the tight end position and implement it into the offense? The chatter from around the team could have you feeling more optimistic than usual.
“We’re on the field a lot more than we have been in the past, both in the run game and the pass,” said Bryce Wolma, senior tight end. “It’s definitely been fun to get out there and be involved a lot more.”
Wolma and the rest of the position group have certainly missed being part of the passing game. Wolma finished third on the team in total receptions as a freshman in 2017. His action then diminished as he hauled in just five passes for 69 yards in 2018. His junior season saw similar usage, catching just five balls for 62 yards last season.
The position group is especially optimistic about seeing an increase in its production this season, thanks to its young quarterback Grant Gunnell who says the tight end position “is always open.”
“I tell him that all the time on the field,” Wolma said. “I joke around like, ‘Man, check it down.’ A three-yard, four-yard flat route. I’m always open. We joke around about it but in reality, it is in this offense and this scheme. The tight end is open a lot.”
Tight end and inside receivers coach Theron Aych said he also loves the potential for his group to be featured in the passing game in 2020. Aych said that they have been working hard to get junior tight end Stacey Marshall more involved and up to speed with the offensive game plan.
“[Marshall] brings that long frame and athletic body that, again, we were looking to compliment [Wolma] and do a lot of different things,” Aych said. “Hopefully we can get those guys on the field at the same time as much as we can.”
Wildcats projected to finish last in the Pac-12? Not so fast.
The general consensus from outside of the team is that Arizona won’t be winning a ton of games this year. Not surprisingly, the Wildcats have not taken too kindly to those projections.
“We don’t take [preseason predictions] seriously at all, that’s like a joke to me," Gunnell said. "I feel like we are going to shock some people.”
Wolma echoed the opinion of the entire locker room by pointing out that Arizona has been slept on for quite some time now and is determined to reverse the negative stereotype.
“I don’t think we get the respect that we deserve, but on the other hand, we gotta go out there and prove it,” Wolma said. “I think this is a big year for us. It seems like the last three years, everyone is going into the season doubting us, picking us second or third, last in the Pac-12 and that’s something that especially this year I’ve noticed.”
“Guys have taken that personally,” Wolma said. “Guys have taken that personally to get rid of that mantra around our program — or that stigma — so we’re definitely looking to change that up. It’s going to take everybody, but I know we have the guys to do it.”
Most of the criticism has been directed towards the other side of the ball after the plethora of transfers among the defensive unit. Junior safety Christian Young feels that the change in personal and scheme gives the defense a clean slate heading into the new year.
“I feel like a lot of the scheme that coach [Paul] Rhodes has put in puts a lot of dudes in a position that they’re going to be successful in,” Young said. “I feel like this defense that we’re running … is going to put us in successful positions so I feel like we’re all going to be good as a defense.”
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