The 2016 Arizona Wildcats take the field for the first time as a team Thursday evening at 5:30 PM PT.
While there are many questions facing this particular team, here’s a look at some of the biggest storylines that everyone will be keeping an eye on as fall camp rolls on for nearly three weeks.
Who will win the center job?
While the defense was not very good in 2015, one could argue that the biggest shortcoming the Wildcats had last year was not being able to get the ball to the quarterback consistently. Heading into fall camp, it looks like the frontrunners to win the starting center job (Zach Hemmila and Levi Walton) are guys that have not had significant game action in their college careers. By all accounts, Cayman Bundage was very consistent in practices last year, so leaving it up to inexperienced guys like Hemmila and Walton is a scary proposition.
What will the defense look like?
This is the million dollar question. With an entirely new defensive coaching staff in place, no one outside of Lowell-Stevens Football Facility knows what to truly expect from the defensive side of the football. Based on what Marcel Yates did at Boise State, most people are projecting a 4-2-5 look, but does U of A possess the personnel to allow for that in Yates’ first year in Tucson?
Is the QB competition a real thing?
In a vacuum, the idea seems kind of preposterous. In one corner, you have Anu Solomon, who enters with 25 career starts under his belt, and for the most part, has not struggled mightily. In the other corner, you have Brandon Dawkins, who has played meaningful snaps in just one collegiate game. Seems like a no-brainer, yet Rich Rodriguez has publicly said multiple times that the QB competition is wide open. Seems like coach speak at best, but maybe there’s something to it?
Which true freshmen will play this year?
There are a couple that come to mind right away (Chacho Ulloa, Kahi Neves, JJ Taylor), but there’s always the one or two that kind of surprise in their first fall camp (Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles last year).
I think this mainly applies to a couple of linebackers...Jake Matthews and Cody Ippolito. Matthews suffered a severe mid-foot sprain in the Utah game that kept him out of spring practice, while Ippolito tore his ACL in fall camp last year. Both figure to be major contributors at linebacker this year if they have indeed fully healed up.
On the offensive side, all eyes turn to Freddie Tagaloa and his knee. It’ll also be interesting to see how many reps Nick Wilson takes. The coaching staff has held him out of full-contact stuff before due to his many injuries, and there could be reason to do so again this fall.
Tellas Jones’ status
The constantly-improving safety did not participate in spring practice due to "personal issues". Not totally unrelated, but also not the sole reason he was not there, was the fact Jones plead guilty to two misdemeanors in Scottsdale in March. The precedent set at Arizona would say that Jones would be suspended for the season-opener, but any official word on that probably wouldn’t come out until game time in Glendale.
He figures to be one of the three starting safeties based on last year’s performance. It would be a pretty big loss if Jones was unable to play against BYU.
A new era of special teams
The Wildcats lose both Casey Skowron and Drew Riggleman this year, and both may be replaced with Josh Pollack. Skowron and Riggleman were some of the most consistent specialists that U of A has had in recent times, so Pollack or whoever will be taking over for them this year have pretty big shoes to fill.