The Arizona Wildcats had been tasked with replacing four starting offensive linemen to start the 2018 season, and ended up piecing together a solid group with little resources and a lot of creativity.
Joe Gilbert without a doubt had the best coaching job of the entire staff, taking over the offensive line, only allowing 1.6 sacks a game and keeping the Pac-12 rushing title for the third year in a row. Now, it gives the group a lot of promise as they can return up to four starters, but can also look to some other pieces that the staff has already brought in over the past year.
So it’s official that two-year starting center Nathan Eldridge is opting to transfer for his final year of eligibility. Once considered one of Arizona’s most important and valuable players, he was replaced by walk-on Josh McCauley after suffering an injury that kept him off the field for all of 2018.
McCauley stepped up and played well above expectations, and is now looking like the starting center going forward. It is the smart move to stick with McCauley, who has a year of Gilbert’s coaching under his belt, his fair share of Pac-12 experience and no injury history to worry about.
The way I see it now, Cody Creason and Donovan Laie appear to be the only other constants, leaving two jobs up for grabs.
Laie, who started as a true freshman, could play left or right tackle.
Creason is the wild card. He can play tackle or guard well essentially fill in at whatever need. If they swing him out to tackle, his original position, they’ll need two replacements on the interior. If they keep him at guard, which I think is what might happen, then they’ll need a left tackle and a right guard.
Bryson Cain and Michael Eletise both started a handful of games this season. Cain filled in at right guard but suffered an injury, putting Eletise in the mix. Both are suitable to start next season, playing well when they had to, but given the transfer and familiarity from Kevin Sumlin, Robert Congel might in fact have an edge.
A Texas A&M transfer, Congel sat out this past season after being declared ineligible for appearing in a handful games as a reserve, despite being a walk-on at College Station. I like his chances to start at guard in 2019.
That puts the pieces in place for their new junior college commitment Josh Donovan to start at tackle. I’d say he is a front runner for that job, given the lack of experience between the other young tackles that have been developing including redshirt sophomore Edgar Burrola and redshirt freshman David Watson.
Other notable depth would include Thiyo Lukusa, the Michigan State transfer that saw some action early this season after filling in for Layth Friekh’s suspension. He’ll now enter his third year in the program and can play either guard or tackle.
Steven Bailey was a junior college transfer from the Rich Rodriguez era, and he provides mature depth at guard as well. Jon Jacobs also serves as depth at guard, providing tremendous value as a walk-on.
The staff is bringing in two high school prospects in the 2019 class, guard Jamari Williams and tackle Jordan Morgan. It seems likely that the staff will add another offensive tackle as well, either at the junior college or high school ranks, within the next few weeks.
Williams, now a Florida 5A State Champion, has great size and power and will certainly play a role in the future. Morgan, an ultra-athletic tackle is a project with huge upside, but one that you have extremely high hopes for given Gilbert’s coaching job after just one season.
The job that Gilbert put together with the pieces he had was incredible and has been severely understated. The line has depth for the first time in what seems to be about half a dozen years and there is suddenly a lot of potential with this group going forward into 2019.