Arizona Wildcats 2003 Football Outlook

Aug. 13, 2003

ARIZONA WILDCATS

Overview: One word to describe Arizona heading into the 2003 season is 'new.' As in new offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators. And a new defense. And a new quarterback. So there is a lot of change going on at Tucson as the Wildcats hope to bounce back from a season last year that was undone by a rash of crippling injuries to key players. If the Cats can take in all the new things happening to them, the opportunity is there for a fast start, as UA plays its first three and four of its first five games at home.

Offense: Seven starters return on offense, although a couple of key players are not among them, as quarterback Jason Johnson and All-Pac-10 wide receiver Bobby Wade have departed. Plus, Arizona had a terrible time running the ball last year, although a promising group of young running backs and an offensive line that returns almost intact should help remedy that. The quarterback battle will be between sophomore Nic Costa, last year's backup, and redshirt freshman Ryan O'Hara. Touted incoming freshman Richard Kovalechek may even get a look. Whichever QB ends up under center will have little seasoning. The running game will certainly be improved over last year. If tailback Clarence Farmer is available it will be a big boost, but even in his absence for much of last year, a group of young backs led by tailback Mike Bell promised better things to come. There is depth in the backfield with tailbacks Gainus Scott and Beau Carr, and fullbacks Gilbert Harris and Sean Jones. Wade, the Wildcats' all-time leading receiver is gone, but still on the scene is senior Andrae Thurman. Last year Thurman pulled in 61 balls for 195 yards (15.0) and three scores, and this year he seems more than ready to become the 'go-to' guy. There appears to be ample depth at receiver, although tight end is a question mark. The offensive line should be much improved with four starters returning--tackle Brandon Phillips, center Keoki Fraser and guards Kili Lefotu and Reggie Sampay. Tackle Chris Johnson also has seen starting time. Sophomore guard John Parada may be impossible to keep out of the starting lineup, and tackle Tanner Bell and guard Keith Jackson will be pushing for playing time. A key for this group will be to cut down on the number of quarterback sacks allowed last year.

Defense: The Arizona double-eagle flex defense is out and a new 3-4 scheme is in, as Arizona attempts to bounce back from a couple of sub-par years defensively, at least by Wildcat standards. Only four starters return from last year's unit, with the big loss being three-time All-Pac-10 linebacker Lance Briggs. The transition to a three-man line will help what is not a particularly deep area for the Cats. Vince Feula is penciled in at nose tackle, with Carl Tuitavuki spelling him. The starting ends figure to be Carlos Williams and Brad Brittain, with redshirt freshmen Paul Philipp and Tim Volk backing them up. Senior Joe Siofele moves from end in the old alignment to inside linebacker in the new. Patrick Howard will likely join him inside, with John McKinney, Kirk Johnson and Akin Akinniyi also in the picture. The outside linebacker posts will see heavy competition among Matt Molina, Andre Torrey, Copeland Bryan and Marcus Smith. The secondary should be an area of strength for the Wildcats with a couple of starters back and the return to health of standout corner Michael Jolivette. Jolivette appears to be fully recovered from knee surgery and will man his old cornerback post with speedster Gary Love slated to line up at the other corner. Clay Hardt is back at strong safety and Darrell Brooks is being moved from cornerback to free safety.

Kicking Game: There is competition for the kicking jobs as the incumbents must fight off challenges to their jobs. Returnee Bobby Gill will be pushed by Nick Folk, and Danny Baugher and James Molina will duel for the punting position.

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