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Arizona’s offensive line has ‘a lot of new faces ... but we’re a hard-working group’

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Will the Wildcats’ inexperience work against them?

Cody Creason
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

The Arizona Wildcats’ offensive line is a major question mark entering the season and it will be tested right off the bat by a BYU Cougars defensive line that boasts an abundance of size.

We covered that earlier in the week since it is one of the bigger storylines (literally) heading into Saturday’s season-opener, but UA right tackle Cody Creason isn’t too concerned.

“Definitely big people on the d-line. It’s not really different than any other game,” he said. “I’ve gone against big d-linemen ever since I’ve been in the Pac-12, so I’m used to situations like this.”

But the rest of Arizona’s offensive line isn’t. The Wildcats are expected to use four new starters Saturday along with Creason, who only started three games last season himself.

Starting left tackle Layth Friekh is suspended for the first two games of the season, while starting center Nathan Eldridge is unlikely to play because of knee issues.

UA head coach Kevin Sumlin said Monday that the offensive line is starting to solidify itself, and the media had a chance to speak to Creason, the veteran of the group, Tuesday to follow up on that.

Here is a large portion of that discussion.

With so much change and turnover, how do you think the group is coming together?

“We’ve come together really well over camp. A lot of new faces, not a lot of experience, but we’re a hard-working group, watch a lot of film together, put in a lot of extra work and overall we’re pretty good right now.”

Where’s been the biggest improvement?

“Just communication. We were kind of lacking that a little bit at the beginning on camp, but I’d say over the last week or so, it’s improved a lot.”

You’ve been the constant and there’s been a lot of moving parts around you. How hard is that to deal with?

“I wouldn’t say it’s too hard. As long as you can communicate with everyone and everyone knows what they’re doing, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Do you feel like the elder statesman?

“A little bit, yeah. Coming from last year, it was a lot of seniors and juniors. Now, I’m one of the older guys, so I’m in a different role.”

In that role, do you try to be more of a leader and how do you do that?

“Definitely. Getting the o-line together, watching film together, look at BYU film and point out things that younger guys might not know, but being around for a while, you realize what to look for on film.

What’s an example?

“D-line stances. What they do out of a certain stance.”

Which young players in your offensive line room have impressed you the most?

“There’s been a lot. Definitely Donovan (Laie). He’s stepped up big for us as a true freshman. Edgar (Burrola) has been huge. David Watson, Steven Bailey.”

Coach mentioned Donovan yesterday. What’s it about him that has led him to be in the mix as a true freshman?

“He’s really big. He has great feet, he’s smart, and he knows the game and that’s allowed him to maybe have a role.”

How hard is it for a true freshmen to play offensive line at this level?

“It’s really hard. And I can tell you first-hand because I didn’t play my true freshman year. I was a redshirt.”

What’s the hardest part?

“Mentally. Picking up an offense this early, a brand new offense as a true freshman, you don’t really have any background playing college football, so that’s the biggest step.”

How’s Josh McCauley been coming along at center?

“He’s been huge for us, stepped in, done a really good job. His communication has stepped up a lot over the last week and that’s helped us come together as an o-line.”

How important is his role as a whole?

“It’s huge. The center, he makes all the calls, tells us who to block, how he sees the defenses, how we have to see the defense.”

You knew you wouldn’t have Layth Friekh for the first two games, so how did you approach that situation as a group?

“Obviously Layth is one of our better o-linemen and probably the biggest leader of the o-line, so not having him is definitely a default for the first two games, but once we get him back we’ll be rolling.”

He’s still in the room, right?

“Oh, 100 percent. He does all the practices, film, leads us.”

Is there a point where Coach Joe Gilbert sat you down and told you were going to have a different group for the first two games and then when Layth comes back it’s going to change?

“He didn’t really say specifically, but we kinda know because we’ve known for a while that Layth’s not going to be there for the first two games.”

How does Gilbert’s experience in the NFL help the line?

“He’s been in the NFL for the last (six) years and that definitely helps us a young offensive line. he teaches us a lot that we didn’t already know.”

Layth mentioned he teaches some NFL techniques. What’s an example?

“The way he teaches hands. The way to punch on a pass set is a little different than I’ve been taught in the past, but it’s definitely been effective since I’ve been using it in fall camp.”

Knowing that you have this amazing talent of Khalil Tate is there a collective mindset that ‘we’ve got to do our part so he can be the player that he’s capable of being?’

“It doesn’t matter who the player is, you always want to protect him. But having a player like Khalil, who’s obviously one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, it definitely puts extra emphasis on you better not let him get hit during the play.”

Is it harder or easier when you have someone who can run and will run at any point?

“I wouldn’t say it’s harder or easier, but definitely more exciting. We had a play last year at Cal, it was a rollout to the right and he ended up running to the for like an 80-yard touchdown.”

So you have to stay alert?

“Definitely. And he can keep a play alive, so if you block a guy for three or four seconds, that’s sometimes not enough because he can scramble, rollout, all types of things.”