The Arizona football team has no shortage of overarching concerns, including inexperience on both lines and a brutally tough early schedule.
Now, let’s look at three players who are X-factors. Three players who will have big roles to start the season.
Three players who, well, I have lingering doubts about.
WR Dan Buckner
Arizona, so deep at receiver, can have a great corps of pass-catchers without Buckner, but the plan all along has been to have Buckner and senior Juron Criner as unstoppable 6-foot-4 bookends on opposite sides.
The Texas transfer has proven he can play at this level, catching 44 passes for 445 yards and four touchdowns on the Longhorns’ team that advanced to the BCS championship game after the 2009 regular season.
At his best, he’s the insurance against defenses over-scheming to take away Criner. At his worst, he’ll be just another guy, not showing enough consistency, except for how much his mouth runs while he’s on the field.
At one particularly spirited fall practice, with the volume turned up to 11 on both sides of the ball, quarterback Nick Foles had to come to the sideline, grab Buckner around the helmet and maneuver him a few steps back while exhorting him to cool down.
Buckner missed the team’s final two scrimmages (he had complained about a possible concussion), but the thought is that Buckner has a chance to be a “gamer.”
“Dan started to come on in the last week,” Stoops said Monday. “I thought he started to show some improvement.”
Said Buckner: “I didn’t have the beginning of camp I wanted to, but as we’re getting close to game time, I’m ready to play.”
CB Shaquille Richardson
The sophomore steps in as a starter for the injured Jonathan McKnight, and Arizona is lucky to have a third cornerback as talented as Richardson. That said, there was a reason why McKnight and senior Trevin Wade were running with the first team.
Richardson sometimes struggled in deep coverage during practices, and Stoops often has lamented how his team gave up too many big passing plays last season. This will be an area to watch early in the season, with Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden and Stanford’s Andrew Luck on deck in the first few weeks.
“We have three corners who can start anywhere. I viewed all three of them as starters,” said secondary coach Ryan Walters.
“Obviously, Jonathan was playing lights out, but at the same time Shaquille and Trevin are top-tier corners in my opinion. Shaq, right after it happened, was like, ‘Hey, I’m ready and I already know what I have to do.’
“I didn’t expect anything less from him. Physically, he’s definitely impressive. And he’s starting to compete play in and play out.”
PK Jaime Salazar
Salazar didn’t really wrestle the starting position away from Alex Zendejas in camp. It was more like Salazar just picked it up off the ground after Zendejas dropped it.
Salazar, a transfer from Trinity Valley Community College in Texas, says he wants to be “100 percent from 45 yards and in.” Arizona fans would be ecstatic if he was 100 percent from 19 yards and in, converting all his extra points.
Salazar said it himself — he’s clutch. We have no way of knowing right now.
What we can surmise is that the coaches are not able to trust Zendejas after his late-season struggles and inconsistency. If Salazar doesn’t provide a comfort level in the kicking game, will Zendejas get another shot?
Or perhaps the better option will to be to just go for it on fourth down inside the opponents’ 30.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the 20th installment of our 24 Hours of Arizona Football Blogging — one post at the top of every hour. Keep checking back at TucsonCitizen.com through Friday at 11 a.m. or follow the entire series with the “24 hours of blogging” tag.