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Arizona’s offensive line progressing, developing depth

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Robert Congel
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Depth has been a theme for the Arizona Wildcats this preseason—and this time in a good way, with almost every position better stocked than it was last year.

The offensive line is no exception.

The way offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone sees it, the Wildcats have a solid eight-man rotation, giving them plenty of insurance in case of injuries and/or suspensions, which wasn’t true last year when they were constantly forced to shuffle bodies around.

It is well-known that UA will start sophomore Donovan Laie at left tackle, redshirt junior Josh McCauley at center, and redshirt senior Cody Creason at right guard. The other starting spots—right tackle and left guard—are still up for grabs, but not for a lack of options.

Redshirt sophomore Edgar Burrola and junior college product Paiton Fears are in a heated battle for the right tackle spot. Same goes for junior Josh Donovan, redshirt junior Bryson Cain, and redshirt sophomore Robert Congel at left guard.

Cain actually already has some starting experience, starting the first nine games of the 2018 season before suffering a season-ending injury.

“When you’re the only guy and you’re not worried about losing your job, you go, ‘hey, I might take a day off.’ But you want to get to where you can’t do that,” Mazzone said. “And I really see both Edgar and Paiton over on the right side just really improved because they’re kind of battling back and forth, which is awesome. Because now we’re feeling that we’ve got three tackles, and that we can swing a tackle out of one of those guys.

“And then the same thing with Cain coming back and Donovan and Congel and Creason, I think that’s a good, solid group on the inside. So I feel more comfortable that we at least are developing some depth.”

Congel, who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, has earned praise for his versatility. The former Texas A&M Aggie was recruited to Arizona as a center, but moved to guard once it was clear that McCauley had a stranglehold on that position.

“He’s 315 pounds, he’s got a lot of strength and he can move people,” Mazzone said of Congel. “Our guards, you gotta have some kind of road-grader type guys that can hold up.”

Even when you get past the top eight linemen, Arizona has some interesting options, including true freshman tackle Jordan Morgan from nearby Marana High School.

“Yeah, probably another guy that’s in that same category as Donovan (Laie) as far as skill set,” Mazzone said. “He’s still right now trying to get accustomed to the speed of the game, and it’s not easy playing left tackle for anybody. But man. that guy’s ultra talented.”

So if you subscribe to the theory that games are won and lost in the trenches, it’s easy to be optimistic about an Arizona offense that also returns its two most important skill players in quarterback Khalil Tate and running back J.J. Taylor.

“I’ve always felt, and I see that on a lot of position on our team, that competition builds good football teams,” Mazzone said. “(The offensive line) has progressed and the depth has progressed, which has been nice.”