Spring Football Preview: Arizona Wildcat Offense
Spring practice for the Arizona Wildcats starts Friday and while the defense has the biggest question marks, the offense is not without their own.
How will the offense run with not one, but two new coordinators? Both of which have never called a play.
Will Nick Foles improve on his breakout season?
If the defense isn't all there with seven new starters, can the offense keep the ship right?
These are all questions that the Wildcats will face during spring and fall practice before the season starts.
1. Will Nick Foles Improve On Last Season?
One would think that Nick Foles can only get better.
He completed 63 percent of his passes, had over 2400 yards passing, threw 19 touchdown passes, and only had two games where his QB rating was under 100. He did all this despite not starting the first three games of the season and only playing two quarters over those games.
Most people would worry about whether the game against Nebraska would stay on his mind and affect him going into spring practice. The thing about Foles is, it won't. He has such a laid-back demeanor on and off the field that it is very likely that he has already forgotten about it.
Wildcat fans should expect to see Foles improve not only on the field but in his leadership with other players off the field.
2. Crowded Backfield
The Arizona backfield became a patchwork group last season but was still able to put together quite the impressive season.
Their top three rushers; Keola Antolin, Nic Grigsby, and Greg Nwoko were able to rush for 1477 yards and 12 touchdowns while all of them nursed injuries throughout the season.
All three running backs bring something different to the table. Grigsby is the scat back, when he finds a hole can easily break it for a touchdown. Antolin is a guy who will hit the hole hard and is not afraid to initiate contact despite his diminutive stature (5'8"). Nwoko is the power back who, at 220 pounds, is a load for anyone to try and take down.
All three return this season and if healthy could create quite the trio of running backs that complement each other nicely.
The Wildcats also have two redshirt freshman who could break into the lineup. Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler both came to Arizona highly ranked and fit the mold of Grigsby and Butler; small running backs who have speed and aren't afraid to make contact to get the extra yards.
For all of the talk of the wide receivers in the spread offense, Arizona has a stable of running backs to use in its repertoire.
3. Weapons Galore
Arizona is just as deep at wide receiver as it is at running back.
Despite losing Terrell Turner, the Wildcats leader in catches last season, the Wildcats may be even deeper at the position in 2010 than they were in 2009.
The return junior Juron Criner, the team leader in touchdowns and yards receiving. Junior David Roberts and senior DeLaShaun Dean also return. All three had over 42 catches last season and all will look to improve upon those numbers.
The Wildcats like to spread the wealth as Bug Wright and David Douglas also made an impact on the field in a couple of games. They will look to try and use the spring as a stepping stone to more game time.
The only area the Wildcats will look for their receivers to improve upon is touchdown receptions. Besides Criner and Turner, who had nine and four respectively, no Wildcat receiver had more than two touchdown catches.
If Arizona is going to improve and help make Foles a better quarterback, their receivers have to work on finding the endzone more.
4. Who Replaces Gronk?
Arizona lost its best player on the team, Rob Gronkowski, for the season and then to the NFL all in the matter of four months.
Gronkowski was a game changer for the Wildcats. Teams had to game plan around him and double team him as he was a threat to score every time he was on the field.
So what is Arizona to do when they lose this player?
The same thing they did last season. Move on.
Despite losing the player they were counting on the most, the Wildcats had their best finish in a decade and were six seconds from gaining a berth in the Rose Bowl.
Arizona has enough weapons to overcome the loss of Gronkowski and will be fine. The Cats will use a combination of wide receivers and tight ends to replace the hole Gronk left.
Senior AJ Simmons has proven reliable in the redzone, while redshirt freshman Jack Baucus could make a huge jump on the depth chart with a good showing in the spring.
5. O-Line Still Mostly Intact
Arizona's offensive line is in good shape as good a shape as the rest of the offense.
They return four starters, including two second-team All Pac-10 performers Adam Grant and Colin Baxter.
The Wildcats had to deal with injuries along the line throughout the season last year but seemed to just be able to plug guys in without missing a step. Despite the injuries the Wildcats only gave up 11 sacks, giving Nick Foles the time to make great throws to move the Cats down the field.
The Wildcats do have to replace the always important position of left tackle but it is likely that senior Phillip Garcia has the inside track on the position. Garcia filled in at left tackle for multiple games this season when injuries caused a shuffling of the line. Garcia could see a push from junior Jack Julsing and sophomore Trace Biskin but it would take a great spring from either to supplant Garcia.