The beginning of spring football is upon us and Arizona will begin its journey towards the start of the 2011 football season on the practice field this week. There will be a microscope on the team given how it ended the 2010 campaign and many concerns are going to need to be addressed this offseason.
Here are the five biggest questions heading into the spring practice session.
1. Who is going to emerge along the offensive line?
UA loses all five starters from last year's squad and will need five new players to fill those voids quickly. In recent years, the Wildcats' offensive line has been a strength of the offense, but in 2011 the line began to sputter at times.
There is little doubt that there is a ton of potential at all five starting positions. Battling for the starting jobs should make these players better in the long run, but concerns are bound to surface for a unit that has virtually no real game experience. The play of the line may have been subpar at times last season, but inserting five new starters that have little-to-no-playing time is going to be an extremely tough task.
2. How is Arizona going to replace Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore at end?
Make no mistake about it, this is a huge concern for the Wildcats. The defense went as far as Elmore and Reed took it over the past three years and replacing two All-Pac-10 performers is going to be much easier said than done. The duo was arguably the best defensive end tandem in the conference and UA used their ability to put pressure in the opposing backfield as a way to protect its secondary.
There are candidates that possess enough potential to get the job done (i.e., Mohammad Usman), but until these players show what they are made of against the first team offense consistently, everyone is in wait-and-see mode when it comes to the defensive end position.
3. What kind of an impact will the new coaches make?
Arizona has a plethora of new assistants or coaches in new roles (Robert Anae, Joe Salave'a, Ryan Walters) that will get to work this week. No one really knows what to expect.
Anae comes over after serving as BYU's offensive coordinator for six seasons and has a ton of work to do with a brand new offensive line. His experience in the spread offense should make it a relatively smooth transition to his new job.
Salave'a will work with the defensive line where he has established tackles, but needs to find two starters at end to replace two all-conference players.
Walters is a rookie defensive backs' coach that will have plenty of talent to work with, but his inexperience will be a cause for concern for some, whether warranted or not.
4. What is the mood of the team?
Arizona lost its final five contests including a loss in the Alamo Bowl to Oklahoma State. After starting 7-1, the season ended on an extremely poor note and virtually killed the confidence of the fan-base. The real concern is how the team is approaching the offseason.
Spring ball will certainly put a charge in any football player dying to get back on the field. If the team appears to have put its struggles in the past and has moved on, it will be a very good sign for the rest of the offseason.
5. Have special teams improved?
UA retained Jeff Hammerschmidt as special teams' coordinator but there isn't a doubt that there will be lots of pressure on his unit. With Alex Zendejas' shortcomings to Keenyn Crier's miscues to the lack of a consistent return game, the state of the Wildcats' special teams was alarming last season.
Arizona brought in Jamie Salazar to compete with Zendejas for the starting job and also landed Kyle Dugandzic to replace Crier. Both players are from the JUCO ranks and were very successful at that level. There will be a lot of focus on those two in the coming weeks.
With Bug Wright and Travis Cobb both gone and no one else outside of David Douglas or Keola Antolin with return experience, UA will look towards players like Garic Wharton (and several other potential candidates) to fill that void.
Five questions heading into Spring
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