Arizona offensive line boosted by versatile redshirt players
By Tom Knauer Arizona Daily Wildcat

April 20, 2006

Tucson, AZ (CSTV U-WIRE) -- In 2005, the Arizona football team's offensive line made as many strides as any Wildcat unit, thanks to the consistency of junior tackle Tanner Bell and redshirt sophomore tackle Peter Graniello and the emergence of walk-on junior Erick Levitre as the starting center.

With junior left guard Adam Hawes, projected No. 1 on the depth chart, out for the spring with an injury, the Wildcats have made do -- thanks to quality depth it lacked a year ago.

Redshirt freshmen offensive linemen Eben Britton, Daniel Borg and Blake Kerley have been the main contributors, said offensive line coach Eric Wolford, as the line tries to move forward with an incomplete cast.

"I think the biggest thing is we've got some new guys in there, and we've been shuffling some guys in and out," Wolford said. "For the first time since we've been here (this spring), we've got some legitimate competition."

With Hawes, a junior-college transfer, not present to fend off redshirt freshmen guards Bill Wacholz and Eddie Rollmann, the closest position battle has been at right guard, where redshirt freshman Joe Longacre, last year's spring starter and a contributor in all 11 games, contends with Borg.

"(The competition) is up and down. It's good," Longacre said. "It's bringing out the best in me every day. I think I'm bringing out the best in all the guys, so this is actually turned out to be a real good situation for all of us."

The line's protection has been questioned coming off the team's past two open-to-the-public scrimmages April 1 and 8, as the first and second strings have allowed a total of 14 sacks, albeit all non-contact.

"You never want your quarterbacks to get hit. That's our fault," Longacre said. "We just have to keep working on it. That (performance) is not acceptable at our position."


Longacre said he and his linemates have focused on honing hand and foot movement, while Wolford said the whole group has to cultivate an attitude of being more physical and disciplined on the field.

"A lot of times, offensive linemen don't have a lot of confidence, and they have a fear of whiffing or just completely missing their guy," Wolford said. "If you have that fear, you got to overcome it. If you don't take the proper steps and you have your hands out wide, your hands aren't going to be inside and you're not going to have any power or leverage."

Wolford said the versatility of Britton and Borg, who can play on both sides of the line, has been invaluable of late.

"Any time you lose a guy who's expected to be a starter, it changes things, but it also focuses on one of the other guys to step up," Wolford said. "The same results are expected. Regardless if the (No.) 1's in there or the (No.) 2's in there, whoever it is, the job is expected to be done."

Freshman quarterback Willie Tuitama said despite the unit's early struggles, he's already noticed a sense of rowdy purpose in it.

"All our guys are out there now. It's like a totally different attitude," he said. "As long as they keep up that attitude, and those guys keep working up front, then we should be fine."

Stoops gets some brotherly love

Junior-college recruit Louis Holmes accompanied friend and Arizona senior guard Hassan Adams as they watched the end of Wednesday night's practice at Jimenez practice facility.

But the biggest celebrity to grace the field among the various high school and college coaches also in attendance was Oklahoma football head coach Bob Stoops, brother of the Wildcats' head coach Mike Stoops and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops.

Though Bob Stoops said he won't be in Tucson to watch the Wildcats' annual Spring Game on Saturday, he offered his two cents on the progress Mike has made in his three years at the helm.

"It's pretty obvious to me, watching how they practice, that they're picking up on things and they're playing in a more aggressive way," he said. "To me, they've shown a lot of signs of getting over the hump.

"They're closer and closer."

Bob said he has been particularly impressed with the work Mike, a defensive coordinator at Oklahoma from 1999-2003, has done with Arizona's defense.

"They look awfully good," he said. "They played some people a year ago a lot better than we did. You watch the UCLA game (Nov. 5, a 52-14 win) and even the Oregon game (Oct. 22, a 28-21 loss), and they played in a great way defensively."

(C) 2006 Arizona Daily Wildcat via CSTV U-WIRE

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