There are a lot of questions surrounding the Wildcats this coming season and the outlook, well looks not so good. To read what most people write and say, the Cats are headed down a 2-4 win season and RR is on his way out. I am a little bias at times, so don't read too much into my thoughts, but there are more reasons for hope than most are giving in their opinions. Here are my thoughts!
O line: For two years straight we have had major issues here. Our C could not snap the ball 2 years ago, costing us a few bad losses. Costing us a game or two as well. Considering that, were we really a 7 win team that could have been an 8 or 9 win team. Then last year we were rocked by the death of our projected starting C. No matter how you twist it, that had major effects on the team all year long. Thrust into the starting role as a RS Freshman, Eldridge got better by the end of the year, but not without struggles. Other linemen were also in and out with injuries. Did we even play a single game in which we were starting someone different up front?
This year Eldridge comes in with a year of experience. Beside him you will have Alsadek, one of the better OGs in the conference. Also, likely on the other side will be what could be the best O line player we have recruited at Arizona since RR arrived in Eletise. Both OTs return, and yet we have a few other players that received much needed experience last season. The RS class looks very good but young and includes Eletise. We all know it all starts in the trenches and that we have struggled in the worst way on the O line for 2 straight years. If we avoid the injuries this year, this group will likely be the best we have had in years!
Here are my thoughts on the RB and QB situations.
We all know what Wilson brings to the table. Pure excitement one play at a time. Everyone expecting his next carry to be his last of the season. He has been injured more often then not, and was almost never 100% last year. Here's to a healthy Wilson and a great breakout year. It all starts with Wilson, but it certainly does not stop there. Bring in JJ Taylor and you have a big explosion in a small package. Kid has added over 15lbs of muscle this off season since the injury last year. He is fully recovered and may even push Wilson for the start. Beyond that, even Green looked good in short bursts last year late in the season. He does have the big body toughness around the goal line we have been missing. That brings us to the X factor Nathan Tilford. I know the kid is a true freshman, but so was JJ last year and prior to his injury, he was looking very good. I would say that those 4 are collectively our deepest and best RB group since RR arrived in Tucson.
After a season like last year, we need to avoid the injuries! Like the O line, there was no stability at RB last year. No run game means teams would take advantage of our poor line play and punish whoever lined up at QB. Again, same story here. New QB just about weekly. When we played the same one, he was never healthy. QB with injuries behind a line that was never better than just patched up against PAC talent weekly does not spell success. We should start the year with a healthy Dawkins who adds another run threat. If the line is improved and teams have to respect the run, then he might just maybe get some time to read the D and make a few good passes. If that area does not improve for him, look for Khalil Tate to take over at some point. Khalil may be a better runner than Dawkins, but also needs to improve his accuracy in the passing game. We got a very small sample from a 17 year old kid thrown into the fire against a team with their ears pinned back. We also know this kid has real potential! I don't believe the other Tate will be in game condition to start the season, but could be later in the season if needed. That will depend upon his efforts to get there via conditioning, and learning the system. He should be ready mentally by that time with his maturity. Don't expect the freshman to see the field unless something major bad happens along the way.
I will now take a look at the BJ Denker season where we started a JC transfer his senior year because he had the best grasp of the position. BJ didn't have a strong arm, but learned how to get rid of the ball, and could run better than average.
Both Dawkins and Tate have more potential than Denker. It is the mental side that has to improve. The better O line and stable of RBs should be a night and day difference.
As you can see, everything is built one position upon another, and things really fell apart last year under the load of losing our C preseason to the seemingly endless onslaught of injuries. Which is why our WR/TE corps were not successful last year. First, nobody could get the ball to these guys. Second, they were a short step down from the years before.
The hype? It all starts with Brown! Kid has game in a small package. If Denson can provide the stretch and Brown can pick up where he left off, we should see at least a few sparks in the passing game this year. We have also heard a few good things about our two bigger receivers. The area I see most improved this year just may be our TE play. Yes, TE play. I am actually excited at the potential of this group from blocking to catching the out routes, and mostly the size they bring over the middle. Nobody expects them yo be used, so they should be able to be a weapon for us this year. Also look for a few young guys to break out this year.
Last one for today is the worst position we had on the field last year. Special teams sucked from start to finish and put us in a hole time and time again. We had the worst field position I can every remember in our history. It was almost like we knew the snap was going over our head anyway, so let's just start every possession backed up inside the 15 yard line. That just meant our opponents were starting inside our territory on a regular basis.
Bring in a true freshman who may save the day for us out the gate. That is a lot to out on a true freshman, but if he never made a field goal, he could change the game for us in major ways.
Now the kick return team will have to find some form of life to get us started, but can it really get any worse? Again, I pull out the injury card pointing to the fact that our reserves that would have played on ST were actually playing the game which forced us to play many walk-ons on ST to keep from burning RSs. We should see some improvement here as well.