Thursday will mark the first day that several players take the practice field with the Arizona Wildcats as actual members of the team.
So which ones are we most excited about seeing on the field, and potentially see in games as a true freshman? We answer that in this week’s roundtable, plus we wonder if this is the year that tight ends are actually used in Arizona’s offense.
Jason Bartel: With camp starting Thursday, which freshman are you most curious to see/hear about?
Gabe Encinas: There are so many good choices to go with, but the first one that came to mind is Kahi Neves. He’s physically ready to play linebacker, checking in at 6-foot-4, 229 pounds, and having him enroll early this past spring to learn the defense and acquaint himself with the college scene is going to be extremely helpful this upcoming season.
I figure he’s a guy that will see the field quite a bit, despite being behind DeAndre’ Miller at the STUD position. And with such little defensive line help this season, the linebackers, particularly that STUD position, are going to have a lot of opportunities to come up big.
Brandon Combs: I would say J.J. Taylor. During his recruitment, colleges were worried about his academic eligibility. Arizona took a so-called "risk" and it paid off.
His size, 5-foot-6 and 155 pounds, is a non-issue. He is an electrifying playmaker who has a toughness about him that can't be overlooked. He is shifty, fast, and extremely difficult to take down in open space. I think he’ll be able to win the 3rd running back spot during camp. With that he’ll see the field early and make plays out of the backfield and the slot.
David Potts: Khalil Tate. I don’t think he’ll be the most impactful freshman - not by a long shot - but he’s definitely the one I want to see more from. Even if he ends up redshirting this year, and even if he ultimately can’t get traction at quarterback, his potential still intrigues. I’ve always wondered how Devin Fuller’s career would’ve gone had he chosen Arizona over UCLA, and Tate may provide an answer to that question.
Drake Horner: Chacho Ulloa. A late recruiting cycle snag could prove dividends this year. The former Stanford commit is expected to make a push to start at safety. The four-star out of Corona, CA is a kid that has already made some noise since being on campus. With the secondary needing help, I don’t think he will redshirt.
Ronnie Stoffle: I have to agree with Brandon that Taylor is who I'm most excited to see. His high school production is tough to ignore despite his size. There will be plenty of opportunity for him this year in the backfield. If he stays healthy, don't be surprised if he's getting meaningful touches down the stretch.
JB: What kind of impact will the tight ends have this year?
GE: On paper, utilizing a tight end sounds so advantageous, but we just haven’t seen a whole lot of tight end action since Terrence Miller left in 2013. Trevor Wood should finally be 100% healthy, someone who Rich Rodriguez seems to have quite a bit of trust in. We saw a little bit of Josh Kern action last year (eight receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown). We didn’t see Matt Morin on offense at all last season.
Brion Anduze went down with a nasty knee injury an hour into spring practice, and he was someone a lot of guys on the team seemed to be excited about. Darrell Cloy moved over to defensive line and that should be a much better fit for him, then there’s Jamie Nunley, who was a mid-year enrollee after gray shirting in 2015.
So anyways, to answer the question without too much optimism, I would like to think they’re involved a good amount. With the lack of height at receiver, and with Matt Morin (6-foot-2) as the only tight end who stands less than 6-foot-5, I’d hope that the tight end is used a lot more.
BC: It is known that Arizona hasn't used its tight ends that much the past couple of years. However, it is possible this year could be different.
The Wildcats have some pretty good options at tight end. Wood is healthy and at 6-foot-5, he is a huge target that could come across the middle. I think Kern is the next viable option. He is another big body that can be used across the middle.
Morin mostly played on special teams last year, so it'll be interesting to see what he does this year. I'm really intrigued by Nunley. At 6-foot-5, 228 pounds, he reminds me more of a big-bodied receiver. He could be used to go across the middle or lined up on the outside against smaller corners.
DP: I’m going to doubt the tight ends until they prove me wrong. Anu Solomon claimed last year that the tight ends would be integrated and bring more versatility to the offense. That didn’t happen. Rich Rodriguez offenses simply have not utilized the tight ends very well, and I don’t see any apparent reason why this year would be different. Both Kern and Wood are capable of making an impact, but I’m not going to buy it until I see it on the field.
DH: Well, I’ve said this for the last couple years and I was wrong, but I think this is the year that tight ends get more run. Solomon, should he win the job, has a grip of the offense and should be comfortable with another wrinkle added on. Wood is a big target and was a big time recruit. Kern is also another big target, and Morin is yolked. You also have some wild card candidates in Anduze and Nunley. Nunley will probably redshirt, but if Anduze can get healthy, he could play. The team called him mini-gronk.
I would love to see some seams down the middle for tight ends and Arizona certainly has the bodies this year to have an effective tight end passing game. We will just have to see how serious Rodriguez is this year.
RS: There is plenty of size and talent at the position. I wouldn't expect to see a traditional tight end formation. It feels like Rich Rod would stay true to the spread offense and they would be utilized in split formations.
Kern had some bright moments last season. A healthy Wood will add to the viable redzone targets. The buzz around Nunley makes this position group appear to be pretty deep. However, history tells us that tight ends typically play marginal roles in Rich Rod’s offense. To avoid disappointment, we may not want to get our hopes too high.