A Post-Spring Look at: Arizona

Nic Grigsby (center) celebrates with teammates following UA's Las Vegas Bowl win. (Photo by Ethan Miller/ Getty Images)

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The Beavers begin the Pac-10 schedule with a September 26 home bout with the Wildcats, a team the Beavers beat 19-17 last year behind the foot of Justin Kahut

The Arizona program and head coach Mike Stoops are rallying behind last year's eight win season, and their first bowl appearance since 1998. Arizona went 5-4 last year in the Pac-10, but managed to knock of BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl, 31-21. 

Arizona had a productive Spring with no major injuries to speak of, and returns seven starters on both sides of the ball. 

"I think, as you look at it, there are a lot of positives to take away from this spring," Stoops said. "Anytime you can do as much as we did and come away virtually injury free, it's a good thing."

The Wildcats return key threats in offense, including running backs Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin, as well as Rob Gronkowski, a horse of a tight end. 

Their one major problem is finding a replacement for Willie Tuitama at quarterback. So far, the candidates are Nick Foles and Matt Scott-- neither one separated themselves in the Spring. 

"The quarterbacks were really good, but just lacked consistency. We need more consistency out of both of our quarterbacks," Stoops said. "They're both very good players and we think we can win with either of them."

Scott, who served as Tuitama's backup as a true freshman last fall, brings quickness and running ability to the position. Foles, a fall transfer from Michigan State, offers the big arm that compares to Tuitama's top strength, but Foles also brings improved footwork in and out of the pocket.

Stoops, who is entering his sixth season at Arizona, said the team may not declare a starter until right up until the end of Fall Camp as the Wildcats begin game-specific preparations for their season opener on September 5 against Central Michigan.

"We'd like to have a starter, but that's not to say we can't see what both guys can do early in the season," Stoops said when asked about playing both quarterbacks early in the season.

Arizona will be without their top receiver from 2008, Mike Thomas, but they return several guys who can replace his production-- like senior Terrell Turner, junior Delashaun Dean, and the 5-10 sophomore, William Wright

Stoops will be expecting a lot of out Mike Diaz at left guard, a replacement for the departed Eben Britton, who is now with the Jaguars. 

Along with Diaz, Stoops said he expects a lot out of next year's offensive line, which proved to be a strong point in '08, paving the way for the two-headed running back combination of Nic Grigsby, who gained over 1,000 yards, and freshman sensation Keola Antolin.

"We feel we'll be strong on the offensive line with a bunch of quality players, we just have to get more physical and that will come in the weight room," he said.

"Just going through the roster, there's not many guys who I don't think can be quality players in this league," Stoops said. "This is a very complete team and we have some very good players. I feel like players 40-80 is really where we've seen our greatest improvements. Our athleticism as a team continues to improve and we're pretty deep talent-wise."

The Arizona defense lacks big names, but it's a group that has the potential to make names for themselves this season. The front seven is a veteran group, with mostly juniors and a few seniors thrown in. There's two sophomores who will likely start in the secondary-- cornerback Trevin Wade and strong safety Robert Golden. The Wildcats seem to churn out great defensive backs every year. It's 

"We have 11 really good players," Stoops said. "There's probably not one guy that really sticks out, but you look and can clearly see that 1-11 are really quality players."

The Wildcats open the season with Central Michigan on September 5 at home, followed by Northern Arizona at home. They'll travel on the road to play Iowa before venturing into Reser Stadium on September 26. 

--Jake (jake.buildingthedam@gmail.com)

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