With National Letter of Intent Day in the rearview mirror, teams across the country can now begin preparing for the 2012 college football season. With a new coaching staff in place for Arizona, it should be an interesting offseason to observe for Wildcats' fans.
Head coach Rich Rodriguez and his assistants are already getting ready for their first season at the helm and are in the early stages of sorting out their new roster. With a little under seven months until the start of the new campaign, there is plenty of time for the coaches to figure out the depth chart.
In the coming months, we will analyze different areas of the football team and dissect the potential depth chart to see just where Arizona's roster stands.
Our first segment will cover special teams, an area that has received much scrutiny over the past two years.
After two-plus years of questionable place kicking by Alex Zendejas, UA's previous staff finally gave John Bonano a shot at the job. Primarily used solely for kickoffs up until that point, Bonano performed rather well in his stint. He went 8-for-12 in field goal opportunities and connected on all 24 of his extra point attempts. The previous two kickers (Zendejas and Jaime Salazar) were just a combined 13-for-18 on their extra point tries in 2011, which was something the fan-base grew tired of watching.
Bonano will be back for a fifth season of college football in 2012 and will handle the same duties. His ability to kick with accuracy and make simple extra points should give UA fans a bit of relief in comparison to the previous two seasons.
Bonano will also handle kickoff duties once again. As a junior, Bonano saw his touchback percentage nearly double from the year before. In 2010, only 12 of his 69 kickoffs (17.4 percent) went for touchbacks, but in 2011, Bonano saw 22 of his 67 kicks (32.8 percent) downed in the end zone.
Handling punts for the second straight season will be Kyle Dugandzic. The soon-to-be senior would have led the Pac-12 in average yards per punt and would have ranked sixth in the nation in that category had he punted enough to qualify for the statistical rankings.
Dugandzic also seemed to manage punts with a short field much better than the Keenyn Crier – the squad's previous punter – was able to in his four years on campus. 12 of Dugandzic's 40 punts fell inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Kick returner poses several potential candidates battling for the job. It is no secret that Rodriguez and his staff like to have speed on the field at all times, which could be a good sign for a player like Garic Wharton.
A track star in high school, Wharton showed flashes as a freshman last year, averaging 23 yards per return on 14 attempts. Last year, Ka'Deem Carey held the kick returner job, but being number one on the 2012 depth chart at running back will probably end his days as a return man for the time being. Wharton has the experience as a return man and possesses plenty of speed to excel there full-time.
He could receive competition from a player such as Daniel Jenkins, Richard Morrison or even one of the speedy freshmen from the 2012 class, but right now it would be difficult betting against Wharton getting the primary kick returner job.
Who handles punts is up in the air. UA hasn't had a deadly punt returner in several years. The last few years of punt returning has involved plenty of fumbles and fair catches, which are occurrences the UA faithful would prefer to see on a much more limited basis.
The job could go to Wharton, but he didn't return a single punt a year ago. Perhaps Rodriguez and his staff will have a different point of view than the previous regime and use Wharton, but only time will tell.
Richard Morrison returned the most punts on the team in 2011 with 11. He averaged 5.5 yards per return and had a long of 15. Experience in this area alone should put Morrison among the top candidates. Other candidates could include Jenkins, Jared Baker and a plethora of speedy, incoming freshmen. Basically, if a player is fast, has good field vision and can help returning punts, they will likely get a shot at the job.
Special teams appear to be heading in the right direction for the first time in years. Arizona fans are going to be worried about this area until the team shows it can overcome its recent issues on the field, but all signs point to immediate, significant improvement in that section of the football team.
State of the Roster: Special teams
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