UA saw dramatic drop in sacks given up last season
The Arizona offensive line has undergone a transformation over the past couple of seasons by becoming bigger and stronger.
But the primary objective continues to be the same: protect quarterback Willie Tuitama at all cost.
The senior quarterback, after suffering multiple concussions in the 2006 season, stood up in the pocket throughout most of last year with hardly a bruise to show despite throwing more than 600 passes in the spread offense.
“They have come along so quickly in this scheme,” Tuitama said. “I barely got touched.”
Tuitama is raving about the prospects of having a line that averages 6 feet 4 and 302 pounds. Four of the starters are back for this season, which begins Aug. 30 against Idaho at Arizona Stadium.
The linemen appreciate the kind words. Still, they don’t put too much stock in them.
“We should not be patting ourselves on the back. We are supposed to block for him,” center Blake Kerley said. “He is not supposed to be touched. That is our job. It is good he felt more comfortable, but that is how it is supposed to be.”
Arizona’s line was beaten up and battered a couple of years ago – off the field – as there was constant criticism of the unit.
Every time Tuitama suffered a head injury the line took the brunt of the blame.
Those same players responded in 2007 by allowing a sack only once every 17 passing attempts, an increase by nearly six from the previous year.
The line has solidified itself throughout fall camp with Kerley back under center for the third straight season, Colin Baxter and Joe Longacre at the guard spots and Eben Britton moving from right tackle to left tackle.
The new player on the line is right tackle Adam Grant, a 6-6, 310-pound junior who is coming off a pair of knee injuries.
“We took a lot of (grief) as far as the offensive line goes,” Britton said. “It was our fault, whatever. We couldn’t protect Willie. The running game was not going. That took its toll on us.”
Even with four returning starters, the Wildcats still brought in junior college transfers Herman Hall, Phillip Garcia and Mike Diaz.
The three monstrous linemen, checking in at an average of about 6-3 and 320 pounds, have given the starting group competition.
“You want to have bigger guys protecting the quarterback and pushing the pocket,” UA coach Mike Stoops said. “I don’t think our athleticism has changed a whole lot. We are a little bigger, but I still think they are very good athletes.
“We just recruited some bigger players. That is how you want them. I don’t want to just get a bunch of big guys who can’t move. That is not going to help you.”
The transfers have pushed the veterans, but so far have not ousted them from the starting lineup.
There are still some wrinkles that need to be ironed out before games begin.
“We have to clean up some stuff on our execution,” Longacre said. “We will show up one morning and not show up the next. Consistency is plaguing us right now.”
Tuitama isn’t complaining.
“Our line moves us,” he said. “Those five move this team. We can’t get anything started without them.”
John Moredich’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
How good Pac-10 teams were last year at protecting their QBs:
School Sacks Passes Ratio
Cal 11 416 37.8
USC 15 422 28.1
WSU 22 525 23.8
UA 31 532 17.1
Ore 23 383 16.6
Wash 24 385 16.0
OSU 31 415 13.3
UCLA 33 360 10.9
Stan 48 424 8.8
ASU 51 378 7.4