Evaluating the Roster: Offensive tackle

Offensive tackle is dangerously thin and WildcatAuthority.com takes a closer look at the position.

There are a lot of questions regarding the Arizona football program this offseason. Perhaps the biggest on-the-field question surrounding the team has to do with the inexperience along the offensive line.

UA loses all five starters from the unit and is looking to replace the group with players that are loaded with talent and potential but lack significant game experience.

The tackle position is probably the position along the line that will be under the most scrutiny as it will be in charge keeping quarterback Nick Foles upright; and that was easier said than done in 2010.

The two starting tackles – Adam Grant and Philip Garcia – played solid at times, but were the bookends of a unit that allowed 32 sacks on the year, good for eighth in the conference.

While those two will be tough to replace immediately, it will be far from impossible as the Wildcats have several talented candidates that will be fighting for the right to line up with the first unit in early September.

Mickey Baucus looks to have an early edge on the competition this spring. At 6-foot-8 and now over 275-pounds, Baucus has a great frame to play left tackle in this offense. He was one of the better players on the scout team a season ago and new offensive line coach Robert Anae really likes Baucus' potential. The tackle from Illinois has a solid chance to be a four-year starter if he wins the job this offseason and performs to his capabilities.

Fabbians Ebbele is another big body that UA hopes will produce in 2011. Ebbele stands at 6-foot-8 and is hovering around 300 pounds. His wide frame makes him easy to spot on the field and assuming he continues to develop, he could be a fixture at tackle for years to come. But like most players just getting their feet wet, Ebbele has a long way to go to be ready for Pac-12 competition

Trent Spurgeon was one of the highest rated offensive linemen in the nation among the 2010 class. Like Baucus and Ebbele, Spurgeon is a big body with a wide frame that is a perfect fit for left tackle. Spurgeon will have to win a tough battle to come away with a starting job, but he isn't going to make it easy for anyone he is competing with.

Shane Zink is back for a third year and has spent the majority of his first two years at Arizona in a reserve role. Unlike the three redshirt freshmen, Zink does have a little experience in game situations at the college level and he hopes the time on the field gives him the upper-hand when battling for a starting job.

There is also true freshman Faitele Faafoi coming in with the 2011 class. Ideally, Faafoi will redshirt in 2011, but he will come in as a third stringer due to the lack of experience and depth at offensive tackle. At 6-foot-5, 300-pounds, Faafoi can play multiple positions along the line and the tackle position is thin enough that he could see the field early in his career if the players in front of him falter or suffer injuries.

The key to the 2011 season just very well may be in the performance of the offensive tackle position. UA is loaded with players that fit an offense geared to throw the ball often. The tackles that ultimately win the job will get a baptism by fire in a way and if they can get comfortable playing against tough competition, the Wildcats just may be better than many are anticipating.

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