The Arizona Wildcats’ offensive line is one of their most experienced position groups, as it returns four starters from a season ago, but the depth — or lack there of — at the position is worrisome for head coach Rich Rodriguez.
“(Offensive line) coach (Jim) Michalczik is really trying to work and get some of the young guys ready because that’s probably overall — the o-line and d-line — where I’m worried most about our depth,” he said.
Rodriguez said he knows what Jacob Alsadek, Layth Friekh, and Nathan Eldridge bring to the table, and has been happy with Christian Boettcher’s progression.
But from there, things get fuzzy.
Rodriguez said ideally he would like to have eight linemen that he can feel comfortable playing, but said the Wildcats aren’t there yet.
How close are they?
“I don’t know,” Rodriguez said after a long pause.
Aside from the four linemen Rodriguez mentioned above, the Wildcats have two others with notable game experience — Gerhard De Beer and Cody Creason.
De Beer, a redshirt senior, started in eight games last year, but Rodriguez said he is a little banged up (though he is practicing).
Creason, a redshirt sophomore, played in 12 games last season and started in four.
The Wildcats have 11 other offensive linemen on the roster, but only a few of them are on scholarship.
Among them are junior college transfer Maisen Knight and redshirt freshman Michael Eletise (a former four-star recruit).
Will that be enough to get Arizona to that magic number of eight?
“I guess (we’re) close enough to be optimistic, but I can’t tell you we have that right now,” Rodriguez said.
Drew Dixon dealing with eligibility issue
Rodriguez revealed Friday that freshman wide receiver Drew Dixon is “going through some (NCAA) Clearinghouse things,” implying that he has some sort of eligibility issue, likely related to academics.
However, Dixon was able to practice Friday as Arizona has appealed whatever the problem is.
Rodriguez said the local Sabino High School product “is going to be a good player.”
“He’s got all the measurables,” Rodriguez said of the 6-foot-4 receiver. “He’s tall, he’s physical, he’s a good athlete, he’s got good ball skills. He’s just figuring out where to line up.”
Dixon was a four-star recruit out of high school.
Rodriguez said Wednesday that fellow freshman wide receiver Brian Casteel is actually further along than Dixon, but still needs to get in shape.
Tony Fields continues to turn heads
Several players and coaches have been impressed by freshman Tony Fields II.
And Friday, Rodriguez declared that Fields “is going to play this year.”
“Sometimes we forget — because he enrolled early — that he’s a true freshman,” Rodriguez said. “Very athletic. He’s going to have a great career, I think.”
Fields, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound linebacker, was a three-star recruit out of Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas.
Fields still has a lot to learn, Rodriguez said, but him being a freshman won’t be a hindrance to getting playing time.
“I’ll play freshmen, I’ll play seniors, it doesn’t matter what a guy is,” said UA defensive coordinator Marcel Yates. “If he can play, he can play.”
Rodriguez said Arizona’s edge defenders as a whole are much more athletic than those the team had in 2016.
Our Freshman Linebacker crew is something special here, can't wait to see the excitement we can make in the game! ⬇️— Tony Fields II (@T_Fields1) August 5, 2017
Quarterbacks in white
Only one Arizona quarterback had a protective red jersey on in practice Friday, when the Wildcats were in pads for the first time: Brandon Dawkins.
The other six, including Khalil Tate and Donavan Tate, were in white and able to be hit in contact drills.
And Dawkins isn’t completely in the clear.
“If Brandon gets to the point where I think he needs to get tackled, because he’s not securing the ball right or not making the right decisions, we’ll put him in white, too,” Rodriguez said.
Quarterbacks coach Rod Smith has not been made available to the media yet.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire