Backups: Matt Scott, Bryson Beirne
Crunch time: This offense will work only if Tuitama makes the right decisions and airs it out with his four-receiver sets. The senior led the Pac-10 with 28 touchdowns a year ago and was second with 3,683 yards – including 510 yards to rally UA at Washington and start a three-game win streak. He could set UA career passing records by the end of the season.
Time will tell: Scott did not play like a true freshman in fall camp, and has given the Wildcats something they haven’t had since Keith Smith: a running threat. Scott is quick in the pocket and has an accurate arm, and maybe a stronger release than expected from a run-oriented quarterback. Beirne has the respect of his teammates, but has not been given much work. His knowledge of the offense could be vital, however, if Tuitama goes down with an injury.
Backups: Xavier Smith, Nick Booth, Keola Antolin
Crunch time: Grigsby took over the starting nod midway through the 2007 season, rushing for 186 yards on 30 carries against Washington State. His 704 rushing yards were an all-time high for a UA freshman. The 5-10, 178-pound back brings a combination of quickness, toughness and attitude when he runs. Keeping his composure and staying within himself is a must for a team that needs to establish a rushing attack after ranking 114th nationally in ’07.
Time will tell: Smith has the most experience, but the junior needs to produce to garner more playing time. Antolin has a burst of speed and the ability to make people miss in the open field. Booth is a JC transfer who appears to have the combination of power and quickness.
(X) Terrell Turner, (Z) Delashaun Dean,
(SHB) Mike Thomas, (STE) David Roberts
Backups: Terrell Reese, Derick Barkum, Devin Veal, William “Bug” Wright, Joe Reese
Crunch time: Another superb season would put Thomas on top of UA’s all-time lists in receiving yards, receptions and touchdowns. He led the Pac-10 as a junior with 83 catches for 1,038 yards and 11 TDs. Thomas has been moved to an inside receiver spot, where he can break down defenses inside the lanes. Turner, Dean and Roberts are taller, speedy receivers who should be able to stretch the field.
Time will tell: The Reese brothers should battle for playing time as they bring solid depth to a loaded position. The Wildcats also will use plenty of four-receiver sets to spread the ball around. Veal, a Sierra Vista Buena High School grad, could be a big surprise as he heads into his redshirt freshman season.
Backup: A.J. Simmons
Crunch time: Gronkowski, a sophomore tight end, relied on raw strength and soft hands to catch 28 passes for 525 yards and six TDs during his freshman season. The expectation is for the former Woodland Hills (Pa.) High star to double that production, with the Wildcats intending to use their future NFL high draft pick more often. Look for the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Gronkowski to be automatic in the red zone.
Time will tell: Simmons could be starting on half the teams in the Pac-10, but he finds himself behind a potential All-American. The 6-3, 250-pound sophomore from Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O’Dowd High brings a toughness to the line and another threat down the middle of the field in the Wildcats’ passing attack.
(LT) Eben Britton, (LG) Colin Baxter, (C) Blake Kerley, (RG) Joe Longacre, (RT) Adam Grant
Backups: (T) James Tretheway, (T) Bill Wacholz (T) Phillip Garcia, (G) Mike Diaz, (G) Jovon Hayes.
Crunch time: The Wildcats have four returning starters along the line, minus Peter Graniello. Britton has moved to Graniello’s left tackle spot from the right side. Grant, after years of rehabbing his knees, has solidified himself as the lone newcomer. Kerley, Longacre and Baxter have grown up together on a unit that could be the biggest and strongest in at least a decade at Arizona.
Time will tell: Coaches will rotate players along the line when needed, and that means Diaz should be one of the first players in at guard. Diaz is a JC transfer who made the most of spring workouts and the weight room. Garcia is coming off knee surgery, but he moved around better as camp progressed.
(E) Brooks Reed, (T) Earl Mitchell, (T) Lolomana Mikaele, (E) Ricky Elmore.
Backups: (E) D’Aundre Reed, (T) Donald Horton, (T) Kaniela Tuipulotu, (E) Apaiata Tuihalamaka
Crunch time: The front four is new, with little game experience. Mitchell gives UA an athletic, physical presence in the middle after switching from fullback. Brooks Reed is as strong as anybody on the outside. Mikaele and Elmore must help in stopping the run.
Time will tell: Can D’Aundre Reed have a breakout year rushing the passer? Tuipulotu has the makings of a monster tackle at 280-plus pounds. The Cats don’t have the biggest line in the Pac-10, so they will need to rely on their quickness.
(S) Adrian McCovy, (MLB) Ronnie Palmer, (W) Xavier Kelley
Backups: Sterling Lewis, Vuna Tuihalamaka
Crunch time: Some of McCovy’s hits could fill a highlight reel. No one doubts his ability, but coaches want more consistency from the strong-side linebacker. UA has gotten solid play from Palmer, who registered 83 tackles last year and 69 in 2006. Kelley replaces Spencer Larsen, who was drafted by the Denver Broncos, and he brings quickness and the ability to take on receivers or backs when asked.
Time will tell: The absence of Larsen, UA’s leading tackler in 2007, will be huge. Just how much depends on how quickly transfers Lewis and Tuihalamaka can add to the rotation.
(CB) Devin Ross, (FS) Nate Ness, (SS) Cam Nelson, (CB) Marquis Hundley, (Nickel) Corey Hall
Backups: (CB) Robert Golden, (CB) Trevin Wade, (FS) Brandon Tatum, (SS) Anthony Wilcox
Crunch time: Talk about pressure. Ross and Hundley must replace four-year starters Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot, now in the NFL. But both won’t shy away from the challenge. Ross is a playmaker and Hundley a good man-to-man defender. Ness started half the games and picked off five passes. Nelson started every game in ’07.
Time will tell: Golden has made an impression in camp with his tenacity. If the high school All-American doesn’t start, UA will find a way to use him in its nickel package.
(PK) Jason Bondzio, (P) Keenyn Crier, (Ret) Nic Grigsby, (Ret) Mike Thomas, (Ret) Devin Ross
Backups: (PK/P) Alex Zendejas, (Ret) Bug Wright
Crunch time: Bondzio is out to prove he is the nation’s best kicker after connecting on 21 of 26 field goals in his first year of starting, including 8 of 10 from beyond 40 yards. Crier developed into a first team All-Pac-10 punter after averaging 43.7 yards per boot. Thomas and Ross give the Wildcats good speed as kick and punt returners.
Time will tell: Zendejas still has to prove his consistency and get the ball up in the air quicker. He’s been consistent working as a punter in the fall with Crier limited because of a back injury.