Eric Bender-Ramsay #69, and Chris Putton #62, are two Wildcat offensive linemen with valuable game experience entering 2012. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Perhaps at no other position is game experience more vital than across the offensive line. A season ago, Arizona was lacking it. In 2012, the Wildcats are teeming with experience down in the trenches.
Colin Baxter, Conan Amituanai, and Phillip Garcia all exhausted their eligibility a year ago, leaving then-offensive coordinator Robert Anae with a front five lacking in experience. The struggles UA had establishing its rush through the season's first six-or-so weeks could be largely attributed to the inexperience on the line. Likewise, the improvement in that facet coincided with the front five gaining maturity.
The correlation of UA's uptick in rushing and number of games under players' belts is no coincidence. First-time starters at skill positions can oftentimes have an easier transition based off talent. That said, "skill position" as a descriptor for those players who touch the ball is something of a misnomer, considering how much of an acquired skill blocking is.
Repetition, repetition, repetition to a point that five work as one translates to wins. That repetition can only be garnered through applicable field time. A positive for UA in the coming season is the applicable experience its linemen gained.
Kyle Quinn is the savvy veteran, the most seasoned with 13 careers starts at center. Quinn cut his teeth early, starting the Alamo Bowl when Baxter was out due to knee surgery.
Trace Biskin: 10
Chris Putton: 9
That's 55 combined starts among five likely starters. Compare that to USC, which in 2011 was the conference's, if not the nation's best offensive line. The Trojans return 59 starts worth.
UA's reserves are also more experienced than they were a season ago, as well. Eric Bender-Ramsey, Trent Spurgeon and Carter Lees all saw notable action in 2011. Freshman Zach Hemmila was arguably the most significant signee of the 2012 class, and could see field time as a true freshman without being called upon to shoulder too heavy a load.
Where Anae, now exclusively coaching the line faces challenge is the transition from an air raid offense, to Rich Rodriguez's zone-read. Similarities between UA's previous scheme and Rodriguez's have been noted repeatedly as it pertains to the skill positions.
The zone-read is predicated on speed, including at the line -- especially at the line. Chris Brown, the schematics maven of SmartFootball.com, wrote that defending the zone-read requires quickness and athleticism, and a move called the scrape exchange meant to confuse assignments.
Speed on a zone-read line means having the fleetness of foot to handle quicker linebackers, but it's also reliant on adaptive speed -- the ability to see such attempts and adjust expediently.
Implementing the quick, zone blocking packages necessary for a successful offense is paramount for the offense's success. The on-the-fly reads of defensive linemen's approach, and according adjustment in Rodriguez's system will define this season's offense.