The old adage says football games are won and lost in the trenches, which could spell trouble for the Arizona Wildcats in 2018.
Arizona lost three starters on its offensive line and will be without a fourth for the first two games of the season, as left tackle Layth Friekh has to serve his suspension.
The fleet-footed duo of Khalil Tate and J.J. Taylor can’t punish teams if they are injured or unable to find room to operate, so rebuilding the offensive line is a top priority for UA’s coaching staff this fall.
While the season-opener is less than a month away, it is still too early to know how well the unit is coming along.
“It’s hard to tell before the pads come on,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said after two days of fall camp. “You really can’t tell because they’re basically out there playing basketball on a football field. You’re just trying to get in guys’ way, so I think I’ll know a little bit better about that in about another week or so when the pads come on.”
When all the dust settles, redshirt sophomore Michael Eletise is expected to emerge as the team’s starter at left guard.
The 6-foot-3, 323-pound Hawaiian was one of the most heralded recruits Arizona landed during Rich Rodriguez’s tenure. A consensus four-star prospect, Eletise was rated as the No. 9 offensive tackle in his class by ESPN and participated in the 2015 Under Armour All-American game, which features the top high-school players in the nation.
Eletise redshirted his freshman season, and then appeared in 10 games in 2017, mostly serving as a backup guard to Jacob Alsadek and Christian Boettcher, as he worked to perfect his footwork and learn to use his strength to his advantage.
But Alsadek and Boettcher have graduated, so the Wildcats need Eletise to step into a more prominent role if their offense is going to continue to be one of the most explosive units in the country.
“There’s no doubt he’s got the ability to do that and it’s going to be important for him to make a big impact on us this year because we really need him,” Mazzone said. “So far to this point, I think he’s had a good summer and he looks like he’s on track to have a really solid season for us.”