We're back at it with our positional preview series. We started with the special teamers, talked the linebackers and last went off on the wide receiving unit. Next up, we're talking the big dudes who have experience and the potential to make the offense explosive from Day 1 under Rich Rodriguez's guidance. It's the offensive line.
Key losses: Jack Baucus
If there were any roots from the Mike Stoops era that remain planted in the dry ground of Tucson, there's no doubt that the offensive line represents the few left gripping to any sort of stable ground.
With offensive line coach Robert Anae being the only holdover from Stoops' tenure -- it's hard to say considering he only was on Stoops' staff this past year -- the unit has strong leadership. Center Kyle Quinn and starting left guard Trace Biskin are two seniors leading a group that, while maligned for much of last season, now has experience.
Starting left guard Chris Putton is a junior while starting left tackle Mickey Baucus and starting right tackle Fabbians Ebbele are sophomores who return from a team that could be playing with quite a chip on their shoulder considering all the talk in NFL circles about how Nick Foles spent most of his time on the ground last season, apparently going undetected by scouts.
Now, Anae and his men have the chance to show how far they've come, no matter whether you consider Point A being the beginning of the 2011 season or the beginning of practice under Rodriguez.Anae believes that all the change doesn't matter, telling the Arizona Daily Star the schemes and coaching turnover won't be an excuse for struggles.
"Nothing changes, no matter what offense you run. Nothing changes. You block on runs, you block on passes. There's not one change. Now, the terms are different, the schemes are different ... but nothing changes in the game of football up front.
"It's really that simple. We don't have plays where guys don't block anybody. There's no such thing."
In the end, Point B is the game this Saturday against Toledo.
According to Biskin, Anae is placing more of the onus on the offensive line this year, and behind the leadership of the seniors, the expectations are for the unit to be leading an offense that's so reliant upon the run.
"He's a little bit tougher on us now that we have experience," Biskin said on Monday. "He told us the other day that he expects a lot more out of us. Another thing is that this whole coaching staff has emphasized a hard edge and he's kind of an old school guy, so that's more his nature and we've carried that throughout the camp."
Sure, whileKa'Deem Carey and crew will be expected to make plays, the line can at the very least be expected to keep opposing defensive lines from blowing up Matt Scott's handoffs in the backfield, before RichRod's offense can even get to its trickery.
While the depth chart gives the starting nods to the veteran members, Rodriguez said at his first pregame Monday media session that he expects some young players to play.
[RELATED: Arizona's final preseason depth chart]
Freshman Cayman Bundage and redshirt freshman Faitele Faafoi will be in the mix, and another redshirt freshman, Lene Maiava, was the starting right tackle while Ebbele was out of practices and dealing with his off-the-field issues.
So while we believe that the offensive line has experience and could bolster the offense, what proof is there that they'll live up to the hype? Well, the numbers help. The group has 83 games of experience and 56 starts combined, with Quinn leading the way at the center and providing 33 games himself. Throughout scrimmages, too, the group has been highly cited as the reason for the offense tearing apart the defense -- despite the defensive holes, you'd have to give credit to the offense either way.
Yes, Robert Anae's group has every reason to be listed as one of the more reliable units on the Wildcats this year.
But in looking at and projecting how the 2012 season will progress, it's a better sign that the players realize -- and are embracing -- all the pressure. The other units being shoddy to decent, the base of Arizona's offense appears to be one thing that Rich Rodriguez and his coaching staff won't be scrambling to fix come the middle of the year.
The roots are in the ground.
Now if they can pull any nutrients out of the burnt clay to help out the quarterback and other skill players -- we'll call them the stems and leaves, respectively -- maybe the Wildcats will pull out a few surprise victories.