The Arizona Wildcats have eight-and-a-half-months to figure out an all-new offensive line, under an all-new offensive line coach, trying out a slightly new philosophy.
First things first. The coach, Robert Anae, while new to Arizona is a veteran coach whose recent stops include Texas Tech and BYU. He replaces co-coordinator Bill Bedenbaugh, whose departure to West Virginia leaves running backs coach Seth Littrell as the sole coordinator.
“Hiring Robert Anae, it couldn’t be a better fit for us,” said coach Mike Stoops said.
“He has an expertise on the offensive line that is desperately needed at this level of football. I couldn’t be more pleased with that element of our staff.”
Anae will be the run-game coordinator and will collaborate with the play-calling Littrell on the game plan.
“I’m just happy that he’s here,” Stoops said of Anae. “I didn’t think this opportunity would ever arise. He’s a guy who I have competed against for many years at BYU and at Texas Tech. I certainly was well-aware of the preparation of his players and how they played.”
As for the players, let’s start with center Kyle Quinn, who will be a junior.
Quinn is the only returning offensive lineman who has started a game. His grand total of starts: one. That came in the Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma State, and Stoops said Quinn “did an outstanding job against a very good Oklahoma State team.”
Arizona also brought in junior college transfer center Addison Bachman. Whoever doesn’t win the center job could very well end up as a starting guard.
Arizona loses its top three tackles, so look for Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele to be atop the pre-spring depth chart. Each redshirted as freshmen last season.
“I think both are going to be outstanding players,” Stoops said.
“We probably should have played Mickey this year. He practiced all year as our fourth tackle, but we never had to get to him. We were close. I think those two guys, they are going to be tremendous, tremendous players.”
Baucus and Ebbele got plenty of practice time last season with the second unit, working against Arizona’s outstanding defensive ends, so that should be useful experience.
Stoops also mentioned sophomore-to-be Eric Bender-Ramsey.
“Bender-Ramsey has got to be a player for us,” Stoops said.
At guard, rising sophomore Chris Putton is a leading candidate. Trace Biskin is another to watch.
No matter the combination, the line will be young. It will be inexperienced.
Arizona’s “heavy” run game did not work last season. Stoops talked Tuesday about being more of an all-the-time spread team. That sounds like a good plan. Not only because it fits the personnel — good quarterbacks, lots of good receivers and one elite wideout in Juron Criner — but because the Wildcats could use an identity.
The Wildcats tried to be a four-wide team and a power running team. Stoops told me last month that’s it’s hard to recruit to that many positions on offense, with all the receivers and H-backs and tight ends.
Balance is nice, but it is a banging-your-head-against-the-wall exercise when half of that balance is all out of balance.
Arizona needs to focus on what it does best — throw the ball.
“When we spread it, and went four wides and went up-tempo … that was the best thing we did all year,” Stoops said.
“We may look at it and just go all tempo with three and four wides (next season). We’ll know more once we get back together after recruiting, but I would anticipate that is more of where we’re headed with this thing.”
All three of these things — personnel, coaching and scheme — should make for an intriguing spring practice.