Inside 'The Unit', Tight Ends & Fullbacks

The last three years the Arizona Wildcat coaching staff have been busy recruiting trying to build up the depth at the tight end position. They have successfully added to the corps and have been able to build the deepest unit of tight ends the Wildcats maybe have ever seen.

There is only one problem, Arizona changed offense and went to the spread offense when they hired Sonny Dykes in the off season. Now the Cats have their deepest corps of tight ends, perhaps ever, and they are running an offense that does not really make the tight end a primary threat within the offensive scheme. The Wildcat coaches are trying to get the tight ends the ball as much as they can and with the talent at the position there is good reason to.

True freshman Rob Gronkowski has been sensational so far through three games of the 2007 season. ‘Gronk' came in as maybe the best high school tight end n the country and he has so far lived up to the hype. Tight ends coach Dana Dimel has nothing but great things to say about his young true freshman starter and thinks the sky is the limit for the talented youngster.

"I think it is safe to say that he is the best true freshman tight end in the country," Dimel said. "Robby has some of the big time intangibles, plus the physical characteristics that make a guy somebody that you can do so many things with because he is so versatile. He's also so physical."

The second man on the depth chart at tight end also happens to be the starting fullback in sophomore Earl Mitchell. Mitchell is best known for his great blocking skills and less for his catching ability and route running, although he is getting better and better as a weapon to catch the ball. Mitchell has a keen ability at hitting people, something he takes great pride in. Earl is one of those rare offensive skill players that does not care if he gets to touch the ball. He is happy just leading the way for someone else, as long as he gets to hit people he is perfectly happy within the offense.

Third tight end, red shirt freshman A.J. Simmons, is a work in progress. He has solid blocking skills and is getting better every day at running solid routes and catching the ball with regularity. Dimel thinks that Simmons has a very bright future with his work ethic he could be a solid tight end for the Wildcats in years to come.

"A.J. Simmons is going to be a tremendous player," Dimel said of the young tight end. "His best characteristics are that he's a great blocker and he's very strong. He improves every practice at catching the ball."

Red shirt sophomore Travis Bell has been the odd man out with the offensive scheme change but he is always available and ready if he is needed. Bell runs solid routes and is adept at catching the ball but in the new offense the tight end's primary assignment is blocking and that is the one area in which Bell lacks consistency. Travis needs to continue to get stronger in the weight room. He has also been hampered somewhat by a few nagging injuries early in his Wildcat career.

Backup fullback Brandon Lopez, a local Cienega high School product, is developing into a solid lead blocker. B-Lo takes pride in his blocking and he is a solid runner from the fullback position. Lopez played running back in high school so he has what it takes to be a ball carrier.

Arizona lost senior tight end Brandyn McCall earlier this season as he officially retired from playing football. McCall's back has been injured for the last couple of years and he finally had had enough. McCall was able to hang up his cleats very content with what he had accomplished in a Wildcat uniform and he decided to hang around campus and help Dimel coach up the rest of the young tight ends.

"Brandyn was able to go out like he wanted," Dimel said. "I respect the decision that he made and appreciate the fact that he is staying around and helping out on the coaching side. You never know what this could lead to for him. I never intended to be a coach either but it just happened, not many guys intend on being a coach but they end up doing just that."

The Lineup:

TE Rob Gronkowski, Freshman

FB/TE Earl Mitchell, Sophomore

TE A.J. Simmons, RS Freshman

TE Travis Bell, RS Sophomore

FB Brandon Lopez, RS Sophomore

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