Arizona will begin preseason training camp on Wednesday, Aug. 2, a month of workouts and practices to get the Wildcats prepared for the 2023 season that opens Sept. 3 against NAU.
To get you primed for camp, we’re breaking down each position group on the roster. Today we focus on the offensive linemen.
Players on roster: 16 (14 scholarship, 2 walk-on)
Projected starters: LT Jordan Morgan (Sr.), LG Wendell Moe (R-Fr.), C Josh Baker (Jr.), RG Sam Langi (Sr.), RT Jonah Savaiinaea (Soph.)
Arizona’s line returns 41 starts from a year ago, including two players who started every game. That latter category doesn’t include Morgan, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against UCLA and missed the final two games.
Morgan passed on the NFL Draft in order to fully rehab his injury and put together one more season of film as Jayden de Laura’s blind side protector. Pro Football Focus ranks him as one of the top five offensive tackles in the 2024 draft, and the hope is he’ll be ready for the season opener to anchor the left side of the line.
The right side has a new anchor, one that previously had locked down the interior right. Jedd Fisch confirmed at Pac-12 Media Day that Savaiinaea, a Freshman All-American at right guard, is permanently moving outside after spending a good amount of spring practice at RT.
“If he can play as well at (tackle) as he did at (guard), this is a kid that’s going to be a 15-year NFL player,” Fisch said.
Baker has started 19 games, the last 14 at center, the most consecutive starts of any returning Wildcat, and his connection with de Laura is solid. There were some hiccups midway through last season with him skipping some shotgun snaps, but that went away, and he did not allow a sack in 553 passing situations.
Moe did not play until the fourth-to-last game of his true freshman season but then ended up starting three in a row at LG and playing 60 percent of the snaps in the Territorial Cup. At 360 pounds he’s the perfect size for the guard position and still has four years of eligibility remaining.
The right guard spot is the one that’s up for grabs, and Langi gets the nod from the outset because of his experience. He started the final two games for Morgan at left tackle but before that spelled Savaiinaea and Josh Donovan at the guard spots.
Top backups: Joe Borjon (Soph.), JT Hand (Soph.), Jacob Reece (R-Fr.), Raymond Pulido (Fr.)
The Wildcats had only used seven offensive linemen on a regular basis before activating Moe late in the season, but expect that number to be higher this time around. That’s especially true if Morgan either isn’t ready for the start of the season or needs some form of load management at the outset, and if Langi doesn’t prove to be the answer at right guard.
Borjon would get first crack at left tackle in place of Morgan, despite not appearing in a game last year. He’s 6-foot-8 and 320 pounds, an ideal frame for an outside lineman, but he’ll have to show his footwork is there. Langi could also slide outside, which would then open up the right guard spot.
Hand has been used sparingly in his two UA seasons, getting one start in 2021 and playing in nine games total, and he’s the backup center but has the ability to work at both guard spots. Reece, who didn’t play as a true freshman, will get his chance to be part of the rotation.
Pulido may be the wild card in all this. A 4-star prospect, Arizona flipped him from Alabama late in the recruiting cycle and will give him every possible chance to play (maybe start?) right away.
Also expected to contribute: Rhino Tapa’atoutai (Fr.), Leif Magnusson (Soph.), Grayson Stovall (R-Fr.)
Pulido isn’t the only promising freshman Arizona signed for the offensive line this year. Tapa’atoutai was very impressive in spring ball, and once he adds more weight to his 6-5 frame he should be a force.
Magnusson and Stovall, entering their third and second seasons with the program, respectively, are both going to get a shot to get some snaps.
Next up: Defensive line