Q & A with Arizona Director of Football Operations Erick Harper
Q: Arizona football will open the 2008 season playing five of six games against teams with losing records in 2007, and then proceed to play five of six versus teams who made bowl appearances.
Do you think the schedule will benefit the Wildcats by giving them a lot of early success and confidence, or might it make the second half of the season difficult due to such a drastic increase in competition?
A: There are no guarantees in sports, other than Tiger Woods' chances of winning each tournament he enters. As for five of six teams with '07 losing records to start the season, it doesn't matter because we will have to play our best each week to have a chance to win.
The second half of our schedule is heavy. However, we have four of those six games at home, and it's never easy playing on the road in the Pac-10. The road games are @ WSU (new staff) and @ UO (always a very good team at home).
Q: The Arizona Wildcat red zone offense struggled last year, only scoring 18 touchdowns on 42 attempts. A common critique of the spread offense is the inability to score touchdowns with a shortened field. Can Arizona fans expect any changes in regards to formations or philosophies when the offense gets inside the twenty?
A: The fans can expect our players to be more comfortable with the offensive system in its second year. With any offense, whether it's pro-style or spread, it boils down to "Execution."
Q: With a very talented receiving corps returning in Mike Thomas, Terrell Turner, Delashaun Dean, and tight end Rob Gronkowski, is this passing game only going to get better with another year in the system? How can Sonny Dykes utilize all of their talents and get everyone touches?
A: Yes, we have a talented crew coming back this year, and Coach Dykes will utilize each player to his fullest potential. The ball will be spread around; however, the open guy gets the ball. Of course, you game plan for certain things to take advantage of a player's ability, and Coach Dykes will make it happen.
Q: Quarterback Willie Tuitama threw 20 touchdowns and just three interceptions in the five Arizona wins. In the seven losses, he only threw eight touchdowns with nine interceptions. Is there a recommitment to the run game with Nicolas Grigsby, and if so, is that going to help take some of the pressure off Tuitama?
A: The better the run game, the better the passing game. They go hand in hand, and Willie welcomes a strong rushing attack. Grigsby should be better now with a season under his belt competing, and a spring and summer in the weight room will make him a stronger back.
Q: Can you give us some information on the 2008 secondary? Being a former standout defensive back at Kansas State, I am sure it must be a position of interest to you. With experience at safety in Cam Nelson and Nate Ness, and first-year starters with Devin Ross and Marquis Hundley, what kind of unit will this be in 2008?
A: The secondary will be inexperienced at the corner position due to the loss of Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot. The ability and experience of the safeties will help with the inexperience of the corners.
Both Ross and Hundley have played on special teams during the season, so they understand the speed of the game, and they've competed against our talented receiving corps throughout the spring.
Q: What does linebacker Ronnie Palmer mean to this defense? Can you tell us anything about his leadership?
A: Palmer means everything to the defense because he is the most experienced player and the leader for our defense. He knows the defense better than any other player on the field.
Q: Lastly, what is your overall outlook for this football team? Is this the year the Wildcats go bowling?
A: Like every team in America going into the 2008 season, a bowl game is the ultimate goal, and it all starts on August 30 with Idaho.