Last year, Arizona had a very experienced offensive line. The problem with experience in college football is that it isn't sustainable. A team with a lot of experience will necessarily lose that experience as players graduate or turn pro. That's the spot that Arizona finds itself in this year - three of its very experienced offensive lineman graduated, and now the team is left trying to fill those holes.
Key losses: Mickey Baucus, Fabbians Ebbele, Steven Gurrola, Carter Wood (injury), Jordan Poland (dismissed from team)
Key returners: Jacob Alsadek, Cayman Bundage, Lene Maiava, Levi Walton, Zach Hemmlia, T.D. Gross, Layth Friekh
Key newcomers: Freddie Tagaloa, Cody Creason
Rebuilding the offensive line won't be easy, but all is not lost. Below are a couple of thoughts about this year's offensive line group:
1. It's not as bad as it looks at first glance.
At first glance, Arizona's offensive line situation doesn't look great. It lost three starters on the offensive line, two of whom were in NFL training camps (though Mickey Baucus retired) and a third who was on the all-conference second team. Jordan Poland got booted from the team, and Carter Wood's injury means that the team now has to find a new center with only weeks to go before the start of the season. That looks pretty bad.
Fortunately, help is on the way. Freddie Tagaloa, a transfer from Cal, will be crucial this year. He enters the year as the most acclaimed offensive lineman on the team, with a little bit of preseason hype as a potential all-conference player and a spot on the Outland Trophy watch list.
And while Arizona did lose a lot of talent on the line, it brings a few key contributors back. Cayman Bundage has started over 25 games at Arizona, and both Lene Maiva and Jacob Alsadek started games last season.
2. Carter Wood's injury will have a significant effect on the line throughout the season.
With Carter Wood out at center, the entire offensive line will be shaken up with only weeks before the season is supposed to start. Arizona still has guys competing for that center position, and the selection of a starter may cause a domino effect that changes the rest of the line. For example, if Bundage starts at center, a spot is open at left guard. Maybe that spot is taken by Zach Hemmila, with Lene Maiava remaining at right tackle. If anyone gets hurt, though, the line may be re-shuffled again. That's not great for consistency on the line.
That's looking at the situation pessimistically, of course. It's possible that someone else takes the center position (Hemmila, maybe) or that Arizona doesn't have injuries on the line that prompt that sort of re-shuffling. In fact, there is at least some potential that the open competition helps players develop. Jason talked to Jacob Alsadek earlier this week, and he pointed out that, "competition sparks greatness." A lot of guys have the opportunity to start, and, ideally, that leads to better play on the field.
Still, the shake-up on the line with only weeks to go before the season will have an effect on how the line plays. There isn't a great solution to this problem (other than hoping guys don't get hurt), but it's possible that Wood's injury will make it difficult to keep the line consistent throughout the year.
So how good will the offensive line be in 2015?
Man, I don't know. I want the line to be good, and Rich Rodriguez's scheme and Nick Wilson's ability to do Nick Wilson things will both help. But there are just too many question marks going into the year. Bundage might have to play center, arguably our best offensive lineman (Tagaloa) hasn't played a snap for Arizona, and any injury has the potential to ruin the consistency on the line.
I think the most likely outcome is that the line struggles at the beginning of the year. Whoever plays center will need some time to adjust, and losing three starters will have a noticeable effect early in the season. As the year goes on, though, I expect the line will develop and get significantly better as long as the pieces remain consistent and injuries are minimal.
This is a dangerous year for Arizona's offensive line, but they have the potential to fight through it and get a lot better during the course of the season.