At the mid point of the season the returns on the offensive line are good. The Wildcats have been better up front on offense and it has shown in every game this season so far except for the Oregon State game when they gave up 8 sacks to the Beavers. Outside that one game the line has done a much better job at the point of contact and of protecting their quarterback, which is priority one in any offense.
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New offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh wasted no time in making waves. When sophomore starting left guard Daniel Borg struggled against BYU in the season opener he quickly made a change and inserted red shirt freshman Colin Baxter when the Cats lined up the next week against Northern Arizona. The offensive line’s depth chart is a decent mix of talented youth and experienced returner but what the Baxter move shows is your experience doesn’t matter, if you don’t get the job done you will not play.
The starting center is again sophomore Blake Kerley. Kerley has been a productive and important piece of the offensive line since he started as a freshman last season. The most important talent that Kerley brings to the table is his keen ability to snap in the shot gun formation, which is the formation the Wildcats are in most of the time. Kerley has been able to lock down the position after it looked as if back up center Colin Baxter was making a serious push to take the starting job right out from under him. Kerley reacted to the pressure in a very positive way as he improved himself and pushed himself and pulled away and secured the spot.
Baxter is still the back up center even though he is also the starting left guard. Baxter was a champion wrestler in the state of California in high school so it is no wonder that he is such a good lineman on the interior for the Cats. He is athletic and compact and in straight up man blocking he is a beast. Baxter is also very adept at pulling from the guard spot and has shown to be a great lead blocker when it is needed.
The back up at left guard is Borg who has not stopped working to try and get the starting spot back. Borg has great physical gifts and is a very athletic lineman but the problem on Borg has not changed. He is too nice a guy and seems to not play with that killer “I HATE YOU” attitude that is needed during those 60 minutes of a football game.
On the right side the starter is three year starter Joe Longacre, a red shirt junior. Longacre has been very steady in his three years of playing for the Cats and he has steadily improved as a player. Longacre is solid in man blocking and he is athletic enough and has quick enough feet to pull when needed. Longacre has no attitude problems and he has consistently played with that killer instinct. When the helmet is strapped he plays mean and smart football.
Talented red shirt freshman Jovon Hayes is the back up on the right side. Hayes came to Arizona with a lot of hype and a slight weight control issue. Hayes has curbed the weight control issue and is now working hard at meeting the hype that surrounded him coming out of high school. Hayes is athletic and strong and is a perfect physical body for the guard position. He is a very natural blocker in man situations but needs to work some on his pulling ability and overall footwork.
Pete Graniello is still the starting left tackle after being much maligned and injured through out his Wildcat career. Last season he had major injuries that he played through and his play suffered. His play also suffered from the lack of talent at the guard spot next to him as he was consistently playing next to teammates that were out of position which forced him to try and make up for it. Graniello was a freshman All-American and injuries have hampered his production and improvement.
Backing up Graniello is the very talented sophomore Adam Grant. Grant was supposed to challenge Pete for the starting spot last season but he tore a ligament in his knee in summer workouts and was lost for the season after having surgery to repair the tear. Grant is tall and long and has quick feet and is a very athletic tackle. He came into Arizona listed as a tight end but was quickly moved to tackle.
Starting at right tackle is red shirt sophomore Eben Britton. Britton has been very solid on the right side and if he continues to improve at his current pace he could challenge for all conference or even All-American honors by his junior season. Britton is a worker and is a very smart football player. Quick feet and brute strength are his two best physical attributes.
The right side back up is the left handed Bill Wacholz, who also starts up front on the field goal kicking unit. Wacholz is an extremely strong and pretty athletic offensive lineman that has moved around a bit trying to find a permanent position. He started his Wildcat career at left tackle and was then moved to left guard and now he finds himself on the right side tackle second on the depth chart.
The Rest of the Hogs
The Cats have a slew of talented youngsters that are either red shirting or are buried on the depth chart. Conan Amituanai is a very talented and versatile player that seems destined or a guard spot. James Tretheway is a talented JUCO transfer that red shirted a year ago. He is versatile enough he can play at guard or tackle. Cody Anderson is another converted tight end that is destined for the tackle spot. He is athletic and has shown glimpses of promise in scout team duties. Cory Elmore is a young guard that red shirted a year ago and recently underwent surgery on his heart. Elmore should be able to return in time and he has the attitude and physical abilities to attack the depth chart upon his return.
The Arizona offensive line has adjusted very well to the new offensive system and awkward splits up front and have performed well so far six games into the season. Outside the Oregon State game they have done a good job of picking up blitzes and have improved each week. They are also notably bigger and stronger for the first time under Mike Stoops. The difference in many of the linemen is very noticeable from last year to this year and more steady strength and conditioning improvement is needed if the unit is going to get to where they want to be.
Pete Graniello, Senior LT
Adam Grant, Sophomore LT
Colin Baxter, Freshman LG/C
Daniel Borg, Sophomore LG
Blake Kerley, Sophomore C
Colin Baxter, Freshman LG/C
Joe Longacre, Junior RG
Jovon Hayes, Freshman RG
Eben Britton, Sophomore RT
Bill Wacholz, Junior RT
James Tretheway, Junior OL
Conan Amituanai, Sophomore OL
Cody Anderson, Freshman OT
Cory Elmore, Freshman OG