Arizona spring report card

Suffice to say that aside from following their own team closely a significant segment of the Sun Devil nation will also keep tabs on their archrival in Tucson. To satisfy your curiosity we bring you WildcatAuthority.com's Jason Nimrichter who examines the Wildcats and the state of the team coming out of spring practice.

Suffice to say that aside from following their own team closely a significant segment of the Sun Devil nation will also keep tabs on their archrival in Tucson. To satisfy your curiosity we bring you WildcatAuthority.com's Jason Nimrichter who examines the Wildcats and the state of the team coming out of spring practice.

Quick Facts

Head Coach: Mike Stoops (8th year)

Arizona Record: 40-45

Overall Record: 40-45

2010 Record : 7-6

Offense

Returning Offensive Leaders

Passing: Senior Nick Foles, 6-foot-5, 245 pounds 286 for 426, 3191 yards, 20 TD, 10 INT

Rushing: Senior Keola Antolin, 5-foot-8, 195 pounds 143 carries, 668 yards, 7 TD's

Receiving: Senior Juron Criner, 6-foot-4, 210 pounds 83 receptions, 1244 yards, 11 TD's

Arizona has become one of the more dangerous offenses over the past few years ever since making the transition to the spread. Over time, the Wildcats passing attack has developed into a very dangerous offense that utilizes an abundance of wide receivers. The execution of the system hasn't been without its own faults, however.

UA has struggled at times with its running game. Three years in the new system and the Wildcats have finished fifth in the Pac-10 in rushing twice and eighth a season ago. They have also struggled getting across the goal line in red zone situations. A lot of Arizona's struggles inside the 20 yard line can be directly attributed to struggles in the running department.

When it comes to its passing attack, there may not be a better one in the Pac-12 in 2011. Despite the struggles along the offensive line in 2010, UA's passing game still finished tops in the conference; over 500 yards more than the next closest squad – Arizona State.

It all begins with Foles. The Wildcats' quarterback had an impressive season in terms of numbers, but the woes along the line really hindered his play down the stretch, especially in the red zone. UA will debut an entirely new starting five along the offensive line, which has many Arizona fans concerned.

The plan is to redshirt senior quarterback Matt Scott so he retains one more year of eligibility. In spring ball, he still played as Foles' primary backup and with the uncertainty along the line, many wonder if Scott will be forced to burn his redshirt in the event Foles goes down.

UA was able to gain a transfer this offseason in former Rutgers' quarterback Tom Savage, so if Scott is forced onto the field this season, Arizona has someone else in line with NCAA experience for the 2012 season.

The new line progressed nicely over the course of spring practice. There isn't too much you can take away from their performance in the spring as it will be an uncertainty until the group is able to prove themselves on the field.

Both Foles and Scott were able to be effective throughout the session behind the new line. Linemen such as Kyle Quinn and Chris Putton have some game experience, but the majority of the players competing for starting jobs have not touched the field often, if at all.

It is easily the offense's biggest question mark going into the 2011 season, but given how up-and-down the offensive line was for the Wildcats a season ago, there shouldn't be a big expectation for drop-off in terms of production. If anything, many expect this group to be a much more productive than the 2010 version by the end of the 2011 campaign.

If the line can give Foles enough time to throw, he has an abundance of talent to work with at receiver.

Everyone is familiar with Criner and his ability to dominate a defense. He led the Pac-10 in receptions and yards, while finishing third in touchdown receptions. He should be the Pac-12's best receiver once again in 2011, which will cause a lot of defenses to focus on him and that's where it can open the door for other receivers to take advantage.

UA will get to utilize the services of former Texas wideout Dan Buckner, who sat out 2010 after making the move to Arizona. As a sophomore in 2009, Buckner was one of Texas' leading receivers and became one of Colt McCoy's favorite targets. He finished that year with 45 receptions for 442 yards and four touchdowns.

He is expected to be another one of Foles' favorite options and he was just that in spring practice. Buckner displayed the ability to use his size and athleticism to his advantage and showed why he has a chance to be one of the better receivers in the Pac-12.

There are also several other wideouts that should make a sizeable impact. Seniors David Douglas and David Roberts have been very important parts of the offense over the past two seasons. Each player has good hands and the ability to find seams over the middle. Douglas finished second on the squad in touchdown receptions with five.

Two other receivers to keep an eye on are junior Terrence Miller and sophomore Richard Morrison. Miller is a big, bulky receiver with the size of a tight end. Morrison is more of the short, speedy wideout who looks to take over the receiving role vacated by Bug Wright.

Both players performed admirably down the stretch of the 2010 season. Miller caught 25 of his 29 receptions over the final five games while Morrison brought in 12 of his 19 catches in his final three appearances.

Austin Hill, Tyler Slavin and Garic Wharton are also potential threats at receiver after redshirting as freshmen. Both Hill and Slavin showed promise in the spring while Wharton could be the team's top return man in 2011. Given the depth in front of them, not too much should be expected from these young receivers just yet.

Arizona hasn't used its tight end very often since the departure of Rob Gronkowski, but Jack Baucus gives them a receiving threat at the position if needed. As a freshman last season, Baucus only caught four passes for 22 yards and a touchdown, but at 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, Baucus could be one of the answers to UA's red zone woes considering his stature.

The receivers looked poised and ready for the season in spring ball, so there isn't much reason to believe that this group won't be one of the better units in the conference if not the country. Foles' timing and chemistry seemed to be at a very comfortable level with his wide receivers during spring ball and should be the least of the Wildcats' concerns in the 2011 campaign.

The running game is a bit more in question. Antolin was the teams leading rusher last season, but has yet to take on the role of starting running back on a consistent basis before this year. Antolin is a small running back that runs with a lot of power and will need to put his strength to use in order to have his best season yet. He was serviceable in the spring, but must step his game up to give the Wildcats a consistent rushing attack.

Behind Antolin is a whole lot of inexperience. Arizona lost Greg Nwoko to an ACL injury, which means UA will choose from sophomores Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler as the primary backup. The two have combined to carry the ball just 10 times for a mere 38 yards. Jenkins had an impressive spring and was arguably the team's best running back in the session. Butler was banged up and may have fallen slightly behind Jenkins at this moment in time.

The backup role could also go to either Ka'Deem Carey or Jared Baker, but as incoming freshmen, they are unknowns at this point.

Defense

Returning Leaders

Tackles: Senior LB Paul Vassallo, 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, 102 tackles

Sacks: Sophomore DT Justin Washington, 6-foot-2, 280 pounds, 6 sacks

Interceptions: Sophomore CB Shaquille Richardson, 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, 2 INT's

The key to Arizona's defensive success over the past few seasons was the ability to put pressure on the quarterback. Without Brooks Reed or Ricky Elmore on the roster in 2011, the Wildcats are challenged to find players that can consistently rush the passer.

Mohammad Usman and C.J. Parish have emerged as the two top candidates to start along the ends. Usman played very little a season ago while Parish was granted a medical redshirt so he could play one more year. Usman has the physical tools to be a very productive defensive end and was just that in the spring. But with only three games of spot duty under his belt, Usman's inexperience will come into question until he proves himself on the field.

Parish is a converted linebacker who surprised a lot of observers in the spring. His 6-foot-2, 245 pound frame makes him ideal size for the position and his athleticism should serve him well off the edge. Like Usman, Parish lacks significant experience on the field, so he will have to prove his worth starting in September.

If their play in spring practice is any indicator of what they will show when the games count, then UA's defensive line should be in pretty good shape. As far as replacing the production of Elmore and Reed; they both have a long way to go.

The primary backup to Parish and Usman is redshirt freshman Dan Pettinato, who has yet to see the field, but the coaching staff is high on. Pettinato showed strong pass-rushing ability in the spring and has learned to read schemes more effectively. Other than Pettinato, the Wildcats have three more defensive ends coming in from the 2011 class, but for now, this position lacks experience and depth.

Defensive Tackle is a bit more stable for the Wildcats. Justin Washington is coming off a surprising and impressive freshman campaign that saw him collect 46 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss – including six sacks - in his first action at the college level. Washington sat out the spring session after having shoulder surgery, but should be ready to go in the fall.

Alongside Washington will be Sione Tuihalamaka, who was one of UA's primary backups at the position in 2010. Tuihalamaka was on the road to being a starter last season before Washington overtook him, but Tuihalamaka played very well when he saw the field. He finished with 23 tackles and three tackles for loss; including 1.5 sacks.

Tuihalamaka was impressive in the spring and helped take a lot of pressure off the edges. They were able to handle Arizona's inexperienced line relatively well and should be one of the strong points of the defense this season.

Jowyn Ward had a relatively impressive spring and should be up for a backup job. He is the veteran of the group and his experience in this defense could be a big asset for the defensive line.

There is some depth at the position with players like Chris Merrill, Kirifi Taula, and Sani Fuimaono, but it took a hit recently when Willie Mobley was lost to an ACL injury. Both Taula and Fuimaono have massive size and power and could see the field in relief of Washington and Tuihalamaka.

Linebacker is an area of serious concern for Arizona. The Wildcats were planning on returning all three starters from last season, but that was before Jake Fischer injured his ACL in the spring game. Fischer will miss at least the majority of the season, making a thin position even thinner.

On the bright side, UA does bring back both senior linebackers in Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo. Each player was impressive a season ago and both are being counted on as leaders of the defense. Vassallo finished third in the conference in tackles last season and was one of the biggest surprises on the defensive side of the ball for the Wildcats. Earls' athleticism made him a player to be aware of in both running and passing situations.

Vassallo appeared to be at least on par with last season during spring practice, while Earls was reading plays much quicker and his game seemed to be at a higher level during the session than it was at the end of the 2010 campaign.

Aside from those two, there isn't another experienced linebacker on the roster. Trevor Erno quit football before spring practice started, R.J. Young transferred, and Kyle Benson has been declared academically ineligible.

That leaves three incoming freshmen (who were obviously unable to be at spring practice) – Rob Hankins, Hank Hobson and Dominique Petties – to battle for the third job. Due to the lack of linebackers on the roster, Arizona utilized defensive backs closer to the line of scrimmage during the spring on several occasions.

In the secondary, there is plenty of potential, but a decent amount of concern as well. The loss of Adam Hall is a big blow, not just to the secondary, but to the defense as a whole. The injury caused a shake up in the defensive backfield, but luckily for UA, it has to depth to attempt to make up for Hall's loss.

Robert Golden played his entire sophomore season at safety before transitioning back to cornerback – the position he played in high school – for his junior year. The injury to Hall forces Golden back to safety once again, but luckily for the Wildcats, he is familiar with the position in this system.

That leaves Trevin Wade and Shaquille Richardson as the likely starters at cornerback heading into 2011. Wade had an impressive sophomore campaign before struggling through injuries last season. In spring, Wade looked a step quicker than he did last season, which could be a sign that he is fully healthy.

Richardson was a nice surprise for Arizona last season. He was a late arrival after being released from his scholarship before stepping on the field at UCLA, but he made his presence felt immediately. The general thought is that we just saw the tip of the iceberg with Richardson, who was Pac-10 defensive player of the week for his play in a game against Washington State.

Richardson did nothing to lose his job in spring and is considered to be one of the better young defensive backs in the conference. If he realizes his potential, UA should be in very good shape at one cornerback spot for the next few years.

Top backups look to come from a group of Jonathan McKnight, Jourdon Grandon and Derrick Rainey. McKnight played sparingly last season but showed flashes of potential in his short time on the field. He did an admirable job in the spring with his increased reps and looks like a starter down the road.

Grandon has a long way to go to be relied on for consistent production, but he had his moments in spring. Rainey has size that a lot of corners do not have and has shown potential during practice. His height served well in spring against Arizona's tall receivers.

The safety position loses both seniors from last year's squad, but that opens the door for Marquis Flowers to start next to Golden. Flowers was one of the best defensive players in the spring and appears to be much stronger than when he initially arrived on campus. He has played all over the field and displayed incredible strength.

If spring showed observers anything, it was that Flowers has star potential. His ability to lay out opposing receivers was on full display throughout the spring and is much more comfortable with the system than he was at the end of the season.

Flowers and Golden figure to be a formidable duo in the secondary and were one of the more effective parts of the defense during the spring session. Behind them there isn't much depth, but top backup, Josh Robbins, showed flashes of starter potential in the spring, collecting an interception in one of the scrimmages.

Robbins improved a fair amount through the session and could figure to be in the picture quite frequently given UA's lack of depth at the safety position.

Mark Watley has had trouble cracking the rotation since arriving and despite playing well in offseason camps and practices each year, he has found it difficult to climb up the depth chart. He could have a great opportunity after his play in the spring. Given the lack of depth at safety, Watley may just be a factor in 2011.

Special Teams

Nearly every area of special teams was problematic in 2010. From missed extra points costing games, to punters shanking punts off the side of their foot with regularity, to virtually no punt-return game; Arizona certainly had its fair share of trouble in this area.

Alex Zendejas looked unaffected by his late season shortcomings in the spring, but Zendejas has never looked like a bad kicker when he doesn't have 50,000 or more fans staring directly at him. He will be challenged by Jaime Salazar – a JUCO commit from Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, TX. Salazar was a second-team NJCAA All-American as a sophomore and led his conference in scoring.

Kyle Dugandzic should be the punter and looks to be much more accurate with his leg than former Wildcats' kicker Keenyn Crier was. Crier had a very strong leg, but would often have accuracy issues. Dugandzic has a reputation for a strong leg - which was on display in practice - and the ability to pin punts inside the opponents' 20 yard line – something Crier struggled with consistently.

UA doesn't return either of its primary return options. Wharton, one of the fastest players in the 2010 class, figures to be a top candidate in the kick return game. His speed was clearly at a level above every other candidate vying for the job in the spring and should be able to hold on to the kick return duties until the season begins.

The punt return job is up for grabs and there will be several players battling for the rights to return punts. There were no real standouts in the spring, but expect players like David Douglas, Daniel Jenkins and possibly even Wharton to throw their hats in the ring.


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