With actual games still almost five months away, spring practice is a perfect time to experiment. For Arizona, that includes taking its best healthy offensive lineman and trying him out at a position he’s never played.
Jonah Savaiinaea, who started all 12 games at right guard last season as a true freshman, has been taking reps at both guard and right tackle over the course of spring ball. The snaps he took there during the first practice last month were the first he’s ever had on the edge of the line.
“It’s a totally different world,” Savaiinaea said Tuesday.
The 6-foot-5, 335-pound Savaiinaea logged 791 of 845 offensive snaps in 2022 and was the top-graded guard in the country (per Pro Football Focus) among freshmen who played more than half the season. But even before he locked up that RG position last spring, offensive line coach Brennan Carroll was already thinking ahead to moving him outside.
“The genesis of said idea was something I’ve always kind of had a thought of,” Carroll said. “Last year it was easier to just start him at guard, his natural position. He’s a good athlete, so he made the transition pretty well. It’s just something we’re working through to try a bunch of guys at a bunch of spots. It gives us more versatility.”
Both tackle spots are unofficially open, as RT Paiton Fears graduated and LT Jordan Morgan is out for the spring following knee surgery. That’s opened the door for Savaiinaea, as well as Joe Borjon, Sam Langi, Jacob Reece and even true freshman Rhino Tapa’atoutai a chance to stand out in the spring. Then in the summer arrives three more freshmen linemen, including 4-star Raymond Pulido.
“It’s such a great opportunity because we’ve really got two lines and these guys are getting a ton of reps,” Carroll said of the spring. “But these guys understand, they know that when new guys come in (the summer) they’re gonna get their shots to play early. They’re gonna get the ones early on in camp and see how they do. So this is their time to show what they got.”
As for Savaiinaea, he said he never envisioned playing anywhere but guard but has embraced the opportunity. He said he’s reached out to Fears, while also picking Morgan’s brain, to get insight on how the position is different than what he’s been playing at guard.
“You’ve got to see the whole right side of the field,” Savaiinaea said.
At some point Arizona will need to make a decision on where best to stick Savaiinaea, since he said which position he plays will dictate his weight. He said if he ends up at right tackle he’ll want to drop down to around 320 pounds, compared to 325-330 at guard.
“Whatever BC wants me to play at I’m good,” he said.