Arizona already needed to find a new quarterback for 2009, and now getting a pair of offensive tackles will also become a top priority with Eben Britton declaring for the NFL draft.
Britton, a junior, will be in April’s draft after starting the past 37 games for the Wildcats, including all 13 games this season at left tackle.
“Having the opportunity to play was just too hard to pass up,” Britton said. “It has always been my dream to play in the NFL. If I came back for another year I might have been able to improve my draft status and the money, but that idea was a little too greedy.
“What if I got injured? Then all that goes out the window. I would be heartbroken.”
That leaves Arizona looking for replacements at both tackle positions.
James Tretheway concluded his eligibility after finishing the 2008 season by starting eight straight games at right tackle.
Finding tackles will be critical with the Wildcats breaking in a new quarterback to replace Willie Tuitama.
Whether the starting QB is Nick Foles, Matt Scott or Bryson Beirne, he will need linemen to step forward.
“Everything will be fine,” UA offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said. “It is hard to replace a guy like Eben, with his toughness and smarts and what type of player he was to our team.
“You (can’t) replace him overnight, but we are confident the guys we have can step up. Hopefully, we are on the right path and have more depth along the line that can step up, just like we had guys step up this season when (center) Blake Kerley and (tackle) Adam Grant went down. I think we have a lot more depth than most people think.”
Grant is a possibility to get right back into action. The 6-foot-8, 308 lineman started the first five games of the season at right tackle before suffering injuries.
Junior college transfer Phillip Garcia is the next most likely player to emerge. The 6-7, 340-pound towering presence redshirted this season to finish rehab on an injury suffered originally at Cerritos (Calif.) College.
“Our expectations for him are extremely high,” Bedenbaugh said. “He has to come back from injuries and be healthy, but he is a really smart guy and understands the system and the protections well.”
Arizona can also go with freshman Trace Biskin, “who had really good practices, especially the last two or three weeks,” Bedenbaugh said.
The Wildcats have already signed Jack Julsing, a midyear enrollee from College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif. He is a 6-8, 315-pound tackle who will participate in spring workouts.
“Jack will give us depth at tackle,” UA coach Mike Stoops said in a statement. “He’s a big, long guy who fits the profile of what we want in that position.”
Arizona has two oral commitments for the 2009 recruiting class in Chris Putton from Glendale Cactus High School and Jake Baratz of Naperville (Ill.) North High.
Britton, projected by ESPN’s Todd McShay in December as the No. 7 overall prospect in the draft, is projected by several Web sites as a possible first-round pick.
He has signed with agent Tom Condon, who represents NFL quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Matt Ryan.
Britton sent in paperwork to the NFL draft advisory committee before the Wildcats’ 31-21 victory over BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The word came back that he would be a first- or second-round pick, Britton said.
“I felt it was the right time in my heart,” he said.
The Washington Redskins might be a possible destination. Walterfootball.com and a report in the Washington Times has the Redskins interested in Britton as the 13th pick in the opening round.
NOTABLE: Arizona senior receiver Mike Thomas has received an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine Game game for seniors on Jan. 17 in Houston. The game will air at 1 p.m. on ESPN2.