The Arizona Wildcats lost three starters on their offensive line to graduation, and will be without a fourth for the first two weeks of the 2018 season.
Left tackle Layth Friekh has to serve a two-game suspension, which was handed to him as a condition for getting a fifth year of eligibility.
Arizona’s offensive line is arguably the thinnest and most worrisome position group, so dealing with Friekh’s absence won’t be easy.
Friekh has played in 38 career games, and the most likely replacement will be Thiyo Lukusa, a transfer from Michigan State.
There was a lot of hype when Lukusa announced his decision to walk-on at Arizona, but also a lot of question marks. Lukusa was projected to fill in as the starting left tackle for the Spartans, but quit because he felt his love of football wasn’t there anymore. Throughout the spring he battled some injuries, too.
Arizona’s first two games in 2018 are vs. BYU and at Houston, and the latter matchup will be especially difficult for the o-line without Friekh.
Houston features stud defensive lineman Ed Oliver, who has already declared for the 2019 NFL Draft and is widely seen as the most disruptive player in college football. While Oliver won’t be lined up across from Arizona’s left tackle, the line will need all the experience, continuity, and communication they can get for that matchup.
Lukusa will probably take a back seat to Friekh in week three, but will likely serve as a swing tackle from there.
Former four-star prospect Michael Eletise is projected to fill in at left guard, replacing Christian Boettcher as the starter. Everything seems to be all in place for Eletise to succeed.
At center, Nathan Eldridge is entering his third season as the starter, and is arguably the most overlooked player on the roster.
Bryson Cain has some big shoes to fill, replacing four-year starter Jacob Alsadek at right guard.
Cain suffered a season-ending ankle injury in 2017, but has slid into the right guard position at 6-foot-4, 291 pounds.
Right tackle is in a good spot with Cody Creason, who was virtually a co-starter with Gerhard de Beer, who battled injuries and is now with the Buffalo Bills.
On paper, the projected offensive line doesn’t look bad. But for the past two seasons Arizona has led the Pac-12 in rushing yards, and that only happened because of the run-first and true dual-threat options of Brandon Dawkins and Khalil Tate.
The depth is where things get dicey.
Arizona lost Maisen Knight, who was a surprise junior college transfer in 2016 from Ventura College. A few weeks ago it was announced that he would be heading back to VC for the 2018 season, which ultimately doesn’t seem like too big of a loss given the situation.
A few days before Knight’s decision to transfer was announced, Arizona added former Texas A&M walk-on Robert Congel , who will now be on scholarship at Arizona.
Congel will be following Kevin Sumlin to the desert after appearing in five games at guard for the Aggies last season. Congel might be able to play immediately, but that is still being sorted out.
In all, UA’s line depth is heavy with guards, which will include Alex Kosinski, who has been with the program for three seasons now. He can play center or either guard position. Josh McCauley and Jon Jacobs are two other guards of note. All three are hovering around 6-foot-4, 300 pounds.
Steven Bailey, a junior college transfer from Glendale CC, will also be a figure to watch once he arrives on campus.
The offensive line has a lot of work ahead of them. An almost entirely new group, with a new coach, now replacing a successful unit for the past two seasons. The pieces are there, they just need to be cohesive and healthy to succeed.