With five Arizona football practices in the books, some players who have never seen the field for the Wildcats are either emerging or solidifying key roles.
Before practice began, we ran down our newcomers to watch — those from the most recent recruiting class.
Now, let’s take a look at the top players who redshirted last season at Arizona and will be making their UA debut Sept. 3 against NAU.
5. Jourdon Grandon
He’s a good athlete who also played quarterback at Avondale’s Westview High School, although he missed much of his senior season because of injury. He arrived at Arizona in a class full of standout defensive backs — Marquis Flowers, Jonathan McKnight and Shaquille Richardson — so he has been a bit off the radar … until now.
“I tell you, Jourdon Grandon has been a bonus for us,” defensive coordinator Tim Kish said after Monday’s practice.
“Coming out of spring, we weren’t 100 percent sure where he could play in our defense. He can play nickel, he can play corner, we may look at him at safety. He’s competing. He’s comfortable. He’s confident. When you have that, you have something going.”
Grandon (6-0, 180) is listed as a backup at strong safety … and it is at the safety positions where the Cats could use an extra dose of depth.
4. Kirifi Taula
He’s one of several promising, young defensive tackles for Arizona, and he might even be versatile enough to give the Cats a 280-pound defensive end in some situations.
“That big sucker can play, but they won’t let me (have him),” said defensive ends coach Jeff Hammerschmidt.
“In spring, he jumped out one time to end and played pass rush and we went, ‘Wow.’ A 280-pound defensive end would be OK, but Kirifi is such a good player inside right now.”
Joe Salave’a, who coaches the defensive tackles and really oversees the entire line, agreed that he wasn’t ready to let Taula jump outside (although Taulu did get a few reps there in practice Monday.)
For now, Taula is a second-string tackle.
“Kirifi needs to earn his stripes before he decides to do something else,” Salave’a said. “We have to make sure we lock down the interior. You can’t go worry about the outside yard when the inside is not stabilized.”
3. Tyler Slavin/Austin Hill/Garic Wharton
OK, so we’re cheating here. We can’t pick just one, but we’re not sure which player should be rated ahead of the others. So we’re going to list all three receivers as one entity.
In any other year, these guys could all be breakout players, but they will be fighting for time behind talented veterans. How much will they play? We’ll see.
Safe to say, though, this is the deepest and most talented receiving corps in school history. Including true freshman Patrick Onwuasor, Arizona seems to go fairly comfortably 10 deep at receiver.
Wharton could make the biggest impact among the redshirt receivers, if only because he’s the fastest player on the team — just ask him — and he will be returning kickoffs. He’s a slot receiver, behind Richard Morrison on the depth chart.
Hill and Slavin are outside receivers who each have caught plenty of passes in fall camp.
“They’re going to be pretty special receivers for this school,” said quarterback Nick Foles.
“This year, they are going to help us a lot and they could do down as some of the top receivers in school history. I think they’re that good.”
2. Mickey Baucus
It’s somewhat unsettling to have a redshirt freshman at left tackle. On the other hand, it’s really enticing to think that Baucus is going to have a chance to be a four-year starter at left tackle.
Before he left last December for West Virginia, then-UA offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said Baucus and fellow redshirt freshman Fabbians Ebbele had the chance to be as good as any tackles he had ever coached.
The responsibility to coax that potential out of him now falls to new offensive line coach Robert Anae.
“I think you will see a lot of improvement with that group early,” coach Mike Stoops said of the five new starters on the offensive line. “I think they’ll compete. They’re athletic.”
1. Dan Buckner
After sitting out last season because of NCAA transfer rules, the former Texas Longhorn is ready to join Juron Criner as big-play threats in the Arizona passing attack.
“The sky’s the limit for him,” Foles said.
“It’s really how good does he want to be. He’s a very talented guy. He’s matured a lot since he’s been here. … We have to keep pushing him. He can’t be satisfied with what he is right now.”
Buckner caught 44 passes for 445 yards for Texas in 2009, when the Longhorns advanced to the national title game.
In addition to his size (6-4, 220) and speed, he’s known for his high spirits, one of the “characters” on the team.
“He’s a breath of fresh air,” Foles said. “Football is a serious game, but at the same time, it has to fun. You have to play loose and Dan keeps that looseness out there.”