Welcome back to our annual series in which we try to determine if the Arizona Wildcats’ position groups are in strong, stable, unstable, or critical condition heading into fall camp, which opens Aug. 6. Next up? The offensive line!
- Key returners: Josh McCauley (R-Sr.), Donovan Laie (Jr.), Paiton Fears (R-Jr.), Jordan Morgan (So.), Josh Donovan (R-Jr.), Edgar Burrola (R-Jr.)
- Key additions: JT Hand (Fr.), Luke Eckardt (Fr.)
- Key departures: Robert Congel
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But what if it is broken?
Arizona’s offensive line went into the 2020 season considered to be a strength due to a wealth of experience, yet ended up being the worst part of the Wildcats’ offense. Consider: in 2018, the UA allowed 20 sacks in 12 games, and last year it yielded 18 in just five contests.
Maybe it was the coaching. Or the system. Or a little of both.
Gone is Kyle DeVan, replaced by offensive coordinator/OL coach Brennan Carroll, who inherits a group of linemen that has a combined 81 starts at Arizona. But a move to a pro-style offense means all that experience may not matter since it was mostly with a quarterback in the shotgun.
The line will go as far as Josh McCauley and Donovan Laie go, and in some respects where Laie goes on that line. McCauley, a former walk-on, is a sixth-year senior and is locked in as the starting center, where he is currently working with all three starting quarterback candidates. Laie, who began his career at left tackle, has 25 of his 29 starts at that spot but has also started at left guard and could end up there when the season begins.
If Jordan Morgan can stay healthy he could supplant Laie at LT, or play next to him at guard. Either way they will provide a solid duo to protect the blind side of whoever is at QB.
Paiton Fears is the incumbent at right tackle, but that’s no guarantee he’ll hold onto that after a so-so spring. Right guard could be Josh Donovan or Edgar Burrola, the latter returning to the team after being suspended for COVID protocol violations in 2020.
Because injuries will always be something that occurs on the line, Arizona’s depth will once again come into play. Unfortunately, almost every one of the backups is either a freshman or has next to no experience at the Division I level, which is where the decision not to bring in a veteran from the transfer portal could backfire.
Arizona has the numbers, and a good amount of experience, but the results from that group to this point have not been good. This unit is the one that figures to take the longest to adapt to the new offense, so things could be bumpy early on.