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What condition is Arizona’s offensive line in heading into spring practice?

Big nasties

arizona-wildcats-college-football-spring-practice-position-preview-offensive-line-mccauley-creason Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This is the eighth in a series of reports in which we try to determine if the Arizona Wildcats’ position groups are in strong, stable, unstable, serious or critical condition heading into spring ball, which begins Monday. Next up: offensive line.

Returning Starters: Josh McCauley, Cody Creason, Donovan Laie

Backups: Bryson Cain, Jon Jacobs, Steven Bailey, Robert Congel, David Watson, Edgar Burrola

Key Departures: Layth Friekh, Michael Eletise, Thiyo Lukusa, Alex Kosinski

New Additions: Jordan Morgan, Josh Donovan, Paiton Fears

Heading into the 2018 season, the offensive line was easily the most worrisome position group, having to replace four starters that helped lead the team to their second consecutive Pac-12 rushing title.

In came line coach Joe Gilbert, who pieced together a really strong group given his lack of depth. He has since been hired away by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the line is under new leadership with Kyle DeVan.

The offensive line returns with more depth and adds some junior college bodies that will give the group some much-needed experience, but how that depth lines up will be unclear given the new man in charge.

We’ll start at center, where walk-on Josh McCauley should hands-down retain his spot as the starting spot, and should also be on scholarship. It would be extremely shocking and disappointing if he is not awarded one this spring.

Cody Creason can play anywhere. He started his career at tackle but has since moved to guard. He can fill in the cracks where needed, but it seems best if he stays at guard.

Donovan Laie, a true freshman, won himself a starting tackle job and never looked backed. He has been graded as one of the best offensive linemen in the Pac-12 and has a promising career ahead of him.

This is where things get interesting, and likely where Arizona’s transfers come into play for the final two starting spots.

Last summer, Kevin Sumlin plucked Texas A&M walk-on Robert Congel out of College Station. He is now eligible and likely in the thick of a battle for a starting guard spot. He played in a few games at A&M, and it seemed as if he would have seen some action last season had he been deemed eligible.

Arizona also signed two JuCo guys in the 2019 class in Josh Donovan and Paiton Fears.

Initially Donovan was announced as a guard when he signed his letter of intent, however he played tackle at Trinity CC in Texas. He’s a versatile piece that can fill in as well, and will be competing with Congel for a starting spot.

Last season we saw Bryson Cain take over a starting guard spot, but his season was ended early due to injury. The spring will get him back into the swing of things, as he’ll likely fill in between guard and tackle, and compete for the starting job once again.

Onto the second junior college transfer. Fears is a true tackle, and is likely the guy to fill in as a starting tackle given the lack of experience and depth that Arizona has.

The other tackles include Edgar Burrola, who has seen minimal action during his two years at Arizona, and David Watson, a local product who redshirted in 2018. Perhaps there is a shot they win a starting job, but the spring will likely serve as a big development period to build depth.

Arizona then has a litter of guards. Walk-on Jon Jacobs and Steven Bailey, a former junior college transfer, provide valuable depth.

There is one final lineman of the 2019 class, Jordan Morgan. He is not yet enrolled, and will join the program in the summer. While he is an extremely promising prospect, he will need to add good weight before seeing the field.

Condition: Stable

I think this group is in a good spot, and Gilbert’s development from last season definitely went a long way for the group. DeVan has a good group to work with as it stands now, and there is still a chance that they go after a graduate transfer, too.

If a projected starting five includes Fears, Creason, McCauley, Congel and Laie, from left to right, I feel good about that group.

Of course injuries happen and depth needs to be developed, so that’s where you can call on guys like Donovan, Jacobs, Bailey and Cain, who provide great value.


What condition is Arizona’s offensive line?

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