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Cats to show off playmakers at Spring Game

The University of Arizona football team will be missing one of the Pac-10′s all-time top playmakers in receiver Mike Thomas in 2009, but the Wildcats have talent lining up to fill that role.

Thomas concluded his career as the league’s all-time reception leader with 259 catches.

That is a big void to fill, but the Wildcats hope to show off some of the top prospects during Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. spring game at Arizona Stadium.

“We may get big plays a different way,” Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. “We have guys who have been effective players for us and coming into their own.”

Tight end Rob Gronkowski – with his 16 career touchdowns – is the most obvious playmaker, but there are others.

Thomas’ replacement is likely to be William “Bug” Wright. He is about the same size at 5 feet 9, 175 pounds, but has only three career receptions. He will be a top target for whichever quarterback wins the job – Nick Foles or Matt Scott.

Fellow receivers Delashaun Dean and Terrell Turner, tailbacks Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin and defensive clutch performers such as safety Cam Nelson, linebacker Xavier Kelley and pass-rushing defensive end Brooks Reed have been in the spotlight in the past, but they have not been headliners.

“Finding an explosive player on offense is very valuable,” Stoops said. “We got a lot of explosive plays from Mike. Taking a short pass and making a big play is what the great ones have. That is the key for us offensively.”

Besides Gronkowski, a look at the players who could step up:

• Grigsby surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark (1,153) and added 13 touchdowns last year.

• Antolin scored 10 touchdowns and rushed for 525 yards despite only 117 carries.

• Dean was second to Thomas with 53 catches during the 2008 season for 593 yards and four touchdowns.

Playmakers are also needed on the defensive side of the ball.

• Reed had 9 1/2 sacks last year in his first time seeing extension action.

• Kelley saved his best game for last with 15 tackles against BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.

• Nelson switched from strong to free safety to replaced the graduated Nate Ness, another playmaker the Wildcats will to miss.

“We feel we have the players here who can make a difference for us,” UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said.

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