Surprising Fleming key to the Cats

Steve Fleming was supposed to be an important part of the Wildcat offense. Now the junior's role is even more important. Fleming was supposed to battle redshirt freshman Matt Padron and a pair of junior college transfers for playing time at tight end, but both Tommy Briggs and Ray Gurley were ruled academically ineligible and Fleming is now the man.

Fleming missed all of spring practice with a shoulder injury, but at the start of fall camp he's been the number one option at tight end. With Matt Padron having inconsistent hands, Fleming has quickly developed into one of the quarterbacks' favorite targets. With only two tight ends on scholarship, he and Padron are getting more reps than they could ever hope for.

"I'm getting incorporated into the offense as much as I possibly want and I'm getting a ton of opportunities," Fleming said.

Although he's benefited from the absence of Briggs and Gurley, Fleming says he would have welcomed their presence. Having them around would have made it more competitive and Fleming welcomed the challenge.

"Initially there would have been competition and I might not have got the initial opportunities that I am now, but I was pretty confident that I would be the man whether they came or not," Fleming said. "Them not being around kind of threw me into a spot where I had to step up right away."

Fleming also had to take on a greater leadership role. He's the only tight end to play in a D-I game and one of only two scholarship tight ends on the roster. Add to that the lack of a go to receiver and altogether there is a lot of pressure on Fleming to step up.

"I wouldn't call it pressure," Fleming confessed. "When you get thrown in with all the opportunities you could want, for me that's what I wanted. I am excited about it."

Fleming came to Arizona as a skinny, fleet footed quarterback. When John Mackovic and his staff came to Arizona they saw a player with potential, just not necessarily at quarterback. They debated where to play him but soon realized that he could be an effective tight end.

"It's been a big transition from quarterback to tight end," Fleming said.

"What a story huh?" Mackovic asked. "I never dreamed he could grow up and be like that when he was a quarterback here. He's kind of a tough guy and we thought we'd move him to defensive end, but he just didn't look like a defensive end being skinny and everything. We put him at tight end and man alive, what a good prospect. He catches, he's smart, he can block, he's tough. He's a great example of having an athlete who maybe does not fit one position but maybe has the growth potential to play something else."

One reason he's such a hot prospect is that he has added a good 10-15 pounds of muscle during the offseason. The knock on him a year ago was that he was thinner than starter James Hugo. Hugo was such a good blocker that it was tough to bypass him in favor of the more athletic Fleming. With the added muscle Fleming has taken the steps to become a more complete tight end.

"I've just been hitting it hard every summer," Fleming said. "It's been kind of a process. I just stayed here working with Brad Arnett. I did get a chance to go home for about a month and I worked out with a personal trainer, Carl Horn. I also did some footwork and fieldwork with Warren Anderson. He had some professional athletes from the Cardinals and Donovan McNabb, and some other college athletes, so I had some good competition and got some work done on the field."

Although he will be a vital cog in the offense, Fleming has some goals for the upcoming season and they don't all include his receiving staff.

"I want to grade out well," Fleming said. "I just want to help the team and improve my grades on blocking and catching. I don't want to drop any passes. I haven't been able to catch many passes in the past, so I'd like to get two, three or more passes a game."

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