This weekend the Wildcats will be getting back Brandon Phillips and you can't discount what the sixth year senior will bring to the team. He'll allow Chris Johnson to move back inside. Johnson has played very well at tackle, but his natural position is at guard. John Mackovic moved him from his guard spot to tackle when there was a lack of big bodies on the line, but as the Wildcats add some depth, Johnson can now move back to the slot he's better equipped to play.
Of course Phillips adds size and experience. Phillips is the biggest lineman and arguably the most talented. A year from now he'll be on some pro roster. He'll be an instant upgrade on a line that has already played very well.
Biren Ealy is another story. The junior receiver is expected to play this Saturday, but he was supposed to play last week and just couldn't go. Ealy had a great practice at the start of last week, but he apparently went too hard, too soon and could not go against the Badgers.
When Ealy does take the field he'll give the Wildcats the deep threat that they have lacked. The Wildcats have a nice stable of receivers but they lack a deep threat. Anthony Johnson and Michael Jefferson have shown that they can do some damage deep, but they just don't have the speed and consistency to really stretch a defense. A healthy Ealy comes in and makes defenses think about the long ball. If he can make a big play or two it could really open up things more underneath.
Fans forget that this offense is on its third system in two years. They began last year with Mackovic's pro-style offense, switched to a simplified version of the spread when Kris Heavner took over and are now just a few months into Mike Canales' complex offense. The staff has implemented a lot of aspects of the offense, but there is still a lot to further install. Much of it will be in place later in the season, but to truly play the style of offense that Canales wants to run the team will need to add more talent. The Cats still have to get better players to be a truly effective team.
Many fans tend to forget that Heavner is still a young player. He has started 11 games, but just 24 months ago he was a high school senior playing small school football in Texas. Heavner came from an offense that was tailor made for his skills. Now he's having to adapt and adjust to a new offense. Considering where Heavner was a year ago in terms of completion percentage and interceptions, one can't help but be encouraged by his progression. Last year he completed just 51.1% of his passes and averaged almost two picks a game. After three games this year the sophomore has completed 73% of his passes and thrown just one interception. Heavner has been called upon to make short, safe, high-percentage passes and that is exactly what he has done.
It hasn't helped that the Wildcats haven't had use of their best offensive weapon. Mike Bell has been healthy for just one game. He was injured on the first play of the Utah game and struggled with the deep knee cut and ball protection throughout that contest. Against Wisconsin Bell was against dinged up and in the rain the Wildcats seemed to worry about him taking care of the ball. The Wildcats need Bell to be a breakaway threat for the offense to properly work.
Although there are concrete reasons why the offense has sputtered, it doesn't mean that it is okay. The Wildcats need more offense if they are to compete. In the Pac-10 a solid defense can only do so much. At some point the offense is going to need to outscore someone.
It looks like it could be a slow process in getting the offense in gear, but it will come. There is too much talent on the staff for it not too happen, but it could be awhile. As the unit gets healthier and more experienced, it will put more and more points on the board.
Eventually the Wildcats will have the experience and talent they need to put plenty of points on the board. The only question is whether it will come soon enough for the fans.