The Arizona football squad has begun preparing for the 2011 college football season. The summer session is underway and so begins the journey towards opening week.
While the majority of the UA football faithful know who the big names on the squad are, the summer presents an opportunity for the lesser-known players to vault their way into the rotation and develop into players everyone talks about.
This year could present several more opportunities for players all over the gridiron. There are numerous holes to fill and positions littered with questions marks, which should allow someone to emerge from the pack as an impact player.
The first name to come to mind is the newest addition to the Wildcat family – former JUCO linebacker David Lopez. With Arizona in desperate need for help at the linebacker position, it looked in Lopez's direction at the right time. He was beginning to receive attention from other Pac-12 programs and it was almost certain he would have ultimately ended up at one of Arizona's rival schools.
Now Lopez will be given a chance to start. Many who haven't followed the Wildcats in the offseason might be a bit confused when they see Lopez's name emerging in practice reports and scrimmages, but the coaching staff feels he can be one of the surprises of the defense in 2011.
Lopez is going to need to fend off some feisty incoming freshmen that are hungry to play football at the college level. With two years of junior college experience, Lopez has a slight advantage on the other newcomers at the position as he is able to ease from the JUCO level to the NCAA. At 6-foot-2, 225-pounds, he has the frame for the position and could feasibly add a decent amount of muscle before the start of the season.
Mark Watley is a player many people may have forgotten about, but he played well in the spring and given the injury problems across the defense, he may get a chance to work his way into the rotation if he has a strong fall camp
Former UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops was extremely high on Watley, but unfortunately others have passed him in the past couple of years. He has always shown certain aspects of his potential during practice and could be in the defensive backfield if he shows some consistency in fall camp.
Watley is a very athletic player who stands tall for a defensive back. Those two characteristics could be serious assets for the defense as it could provide it with another reliable backup in the secondary to potentially use in nickel and dime packages.
Linebacker Bilal Muhammed is a name very few people are currently familiar with, but he is beginning to surface in the battle at linebacker. Muhammed only stands at 5-foot-10, but at 235 pounds, he has enough muscle to hold his own against the opposition. There is still a lot to be learned about the senior, as he hasn't seen the field, but the word is that he has a real shot to see the field.
Muhammed will have to fight for time, but due to the youth of the likely backups, he could permit UA to redshirt one of the incoming linebackers. If Muhammed does so, it's because he has forced his way into the rotation with his play and that could be extremely beneficial to the development of young talent.
Another player to look out for that's right in the mix for playing time at defensive end is Dan Pettinato. While most diehards will recognize his name from recruiting, the average fan is most likely unfamiliar with the young defensive end. Pettinato is yet another player the defensive staff really likes and could vault his way into a significant role at end by the start of the season.
Pettinato will have to battle C.J. Parish – a converted linebacker with little game experience – and Mohammad Usman - who missed the majority of his junior campaign – for playing time and a starting job.
His continual improvement could leap-frog him into a starting job. Both Parish and Usman have looked strong in offseason practice sessions, but the momentum Pettinato has built up this offseason could propel him into a much more viable role.
The Wildcats face many questions, especially on the defensive side of the ball. In order for those queries to be answered, there will be a need for some unexpected players to play above expectations. If everything were to fall into place for these unnoticed players, they could end up having a positive impact on the 2011 campaign.
Lesser known players could have impact
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