Kick returner has a ‘big goal’ for this season
Ten thoughts on UA football, one for each day remaining before the season opener at BYU:
1. If Arizona wins the coin toss before the BYU game, I hope UA elects to receive.
Devin Ross does, too. The sophomore, projected as UA’s primary kick returner had this to say about his 2007 goals:
“I plan on returning one kick for a touchdown every game,” he said. “It’s a big goal.”
Yeah, that would be like a record or something.
Would he settle for something less?
Maybe a touchdown in every other game?
One every game?
“You can hold me to that,” he said.
Ross showed nifty return skills in last weekend’s scrimmage, with straight-line speed and start-and-stop cuts. As you can tell, he doesn’t lack for confidence.
A season-opening kick return for a touchdown can be an omen.
In 1997, on a dreary day in Eugene (imagine that), Ore., Saladin McCullough zipped through UA for a 93-yard score on the game’s first play.
The Ducks won 16-9, and a promising Arizona season never took flight.
A year later, Chris McAlister zoomed untouched past Hawaii for a 100-yard return on the opening kick, setting the tone for a fabulous 12-1 season.
Can you top that, Mr. Ross?
2. I worry about the offensive line.
Not the starters so much, but about potential injuries. As currently configured, the second-team line consists of sophomore Adam Grant (coming off a knee injury), three redshirt freshman – Conan Amituanai, Colin Baxter and Jovon Hayes – and junior Bill Wacholz.
Wacholz is the only one who has played in a college game, and not much at that.
3. Pssst . . . tight end Rob Gronkowski and fullback Earl Mitchell are really good.
Both young guys have NFL measurables, and coaches have raved about each in the preseason. Yet the Cats did not throw a single pass their way in the team’s only public scrimmage of the fall.
Methinks the coaches were wary of BYU’s spying eyes.
Wink, wink: Gronkowski isn’t even listed on the new two-deep.
Not to be fooled, we’re going with this stat-line prediction for Gronkowski in the opener: seven catches for 75 yards.
4. Tyler Lyon does not look like the future at quarterback.
The redshirt freshman has fallen behind senior Kris Heavner as the top backup and still has to wait two years behind starter Willie Tuitama. By the time Tuitama is gone, UA will have recruited quarterbacks better versed in the spread passing attack.
5. Stop growing, Keenyn Crier!
The punter walked on last fall as a 17 1/2-year-old freshman, showing a big leg and bigger inconsistency. Part of that, he says, was because he was still growing, which created havoc with the art and science of punting.
“I think I’m almost done growing,” said Crier, listed at 6 feet 1 and 200 pounds.
“My body is almost where it needs to be so I can keep consistent and not have to worry about changes with my leg getting longer. I’m still feeling growing pains, but I’m more stable.”
6. Chris Jennings has a way with words.
Talking about all the little swing passes in the UA offense, the senior running back said, “I say this offense is quick, quick, quick to get you to bite . . . and then, boom, over the top.
“It’s like having a worm on a fish pole. You bait them in and then you eat them up and you’ve got dinner. And dinner for us is touchdowns.”
7. More Jennings: He’s going to be one tired Wildcat.
UA’s new offense is styled on Texas Tech’s spread, and the Red Raiders love to throw to their tailback. Their lead running back has averaged 73 receptions in the past seven seasons.
Good thing Jennings is a superb pass catcher.
“My whole high school career, I had like five receptions. That’s it,” Jennings said. “Everyone else was like, ‘Pass him the ball!’ but they wanted me to run, so I ran and did everything else they wanted, even kick field goals.
“Catching the ball, I love it. I love it with a passion.”
8. Never mind about all those little passes.
You will hear, likely a lot, about how this is a dink-and-dunk offense. Don’t worry.
Texas Tech averaged 7.33 yards per pass attempt last season. New Mexico State, which runs the same offense, averaged 7.89 yards per attempt.
Arizona’s average last season: 5.69 yards per pass.
You see, it can’t get any worse.
By the way, the Pac-10 leader was Oregon State at 7.98 yards per throw.
9. Special teams won’t be a disaster.
There is the aforementioned Crier, and first-string place-kicker Jason Bondzio looked much improved in the weekend scrimmage. UA’s specialists, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, should be solid enough.
We’ve been spoiled over the years with great punters and kickers, so much so that this shocked me when I looked it up (yeah, too much time on my hands):
No team in the Pac-10 has had fewer all-conference specialists than the Wildcats.
UA has had three – punter Josh Miller in 1992, kicker Steve McLaughlin in 1994 and punter Nick Folk last season. That’s it.
Oregon State also has had three. Everyone else since the league expanded in 1978 has more.
UCLA is the special teams king, with 15 all-conference honors for kickers and punters.
Interesting tidbits: USC has never had an all-Pac-10 place-kicker, and Washington has failed to have an all-league punter.
10. A most encouraging sign.
Arizona was 1-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less in coach Mike Stoops’ first season.
The Cats were 1-5 in such games in his second season.
They were 2-1 in those situations last season, kicking a last-second field goal to beat BYU and holding off Cal for most of the fourth quarter.
These guys have taken one of the most important steps. They’ve learned how to win.
Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org