Pac-12: Chris Putton

There might be no one on the entire Arizona roster more eager for coach Rich Rodriguez to pick a starting quarterback than center Steven Gurrola -- except maybe the handful of quarterbacks who are still vying for the job.

Still, as far as Gurrola is concerned, the sooner the better.

“Every quarterback is different,” Gurrola said. “I’ve got a different relationship with each one. For example, me and Jesse [Scroggins] will snap it two times. Then I’d go to [the next guy] and snap two times. I’m trying to get a feel for where each one wants it. They are different heights. They each have different aiming points where they want the ball. It’s different for each guy, but you have to find a way to adjust to whatever makes them comfortable.”

[+] EnlargeSteven Gurrola
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriArizona center Steven Gurrola anchors an experienced O-line.
The relationship between center and quarterback is a, well, an intimate one. So Gurrola, like the rest of Bear Down nation, can’t wait to see who finally emerges with the job.

One thing is for sure. Whoever does get the job will have a veteran line protecting him. The Wildcats return four starters on the offensive line: Gurrola, who was recently named to the Rimington spring watch list for the nation’s best center; left tackle Mickey Baucus, who has started 38 games; left guard Cayman Bundage, who started all 13 games last fall and played in 11 more as a true freshman; and right tackle Fabbians Ebbele, who has 37 starts over the last three seasons. The lone starter they are looking to replace is Chris Putton.

Continuity like that along the offensive line is invaluable -- especially when breaking in a new starting quarterback. And Gurrola, the de facto leader of the group as center, said he notices the difference between how the offensive line operated this spring compared to last season.

“You can see as a group that we get it,” he said. “There was a lot more communication and we all know exactly what we have to do with our assignments. We all know who is reading the safeties and the linebackers and who has the alert calls. It was a lot easier this spring than it was last year.”

Of course, last spring the Wildcats also had the benefit of the nation’s leading rusher in Ka'Deem Carey coming back. Carey would go on to rush for 1,885 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013 with Gurrola and Co. leading the way. As an offense, the Wildcats averaged 33.5 points per game, totaled 311 first downs and averaged 458.5 yards per game of offense. They were also second in the conference in sacks allowed, giving up just 17 all season.

A transfer from Glendale Community College, Gurrola was tasked with replacing Kyle Quinn -- a staple at center the previous couple of seasons. The expectations were simple: match Quinn’s productivity or be better.

“The coaches told me from the beginning that I’d have some big shoes to fill,” Gurrola said. “Kyle was a great center. It’s one of those things where I knew I’d have to work at it every day if I wanted to be great.”

And now he’s receiving the recognition as one of six centers in the conference to be named to the Rimington Trophy watch list -- something he called a blessing and an honor.

“It’s definitely not something I was expecting,” he said. “That I’m even mentioned is exciting.”

He also wasn’t expecting the pace of Arizona’s practices and conditioning when he first arrived. Once he got the job, Rodriguez famously proclaimed that his team was weak physically. Stuff like that doesn’t sit well with the players, who took their coach’s challenge to heart.

But now, entering the third year of the system, Gurrola and the rest of his compatriots on the line find themselves pushing the tempo more often than not.

“It was a tough adjustment because I didn’t know what to expect, and I definitely wasn’t in the right shape,” Gurrola said. “But things have gotten easier. As the center, I’m pretty comfortable telling my guys they need to keep up the pace. I’ll even tell the quarterbacks to speed things up. That’s the style we want to play. Always moving.”

Arizona Wildcats season preview

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
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We conclude our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season in reverse alphabetical order with the Arizona Wildcats.

Arizona

Coach: Rich Rodriguez (83-53, 8-5 at Arizona)

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
AP Photo/John MillerLast season Rich Rodriguez's offense scored 38 points per game, but his defense gave up 35.
2012 record: 8-5 (4-5 Pac-12 South)

Key losses: QB Matt Scott, WR Dan Buckner, C Kyle Quinn, DL Dominique Austin, OL Trace Biskin.

Key returnees: RB Ka'Deem Carey, RB Daniel Jenkins, LB Jake Fischer, LB Marquis Flowers, WR Terrence Miller, OL Fabbians Ebbele, OL Mickey Baucus, OL Chris Putton.

Newcomer to watch: The Wildcats have put an emphasis on building defensive depth, so look for linebacker Scooby Wright to contribute immediately. The all-state performer out of Cardinal Newman (Windsor, Calif.) has impressed so far in camp.

Biggest games in 2013: With UCLA, USC and ASU getting the bulk of the hype in the Pac-12 South, the Wildcats will have to pull off some upsets if they want to be in contention. That makes all three (at USC Oct. 10, vs. UCLA Nov. 9, at ASU Nov. 30) critical. Of course, the ASU game is the biggest of all.

Biggest question mark: Next week is game week, and the Wildcats are still in quarterback limbo. It was thought that B.J. Denker and Jesse Scroggins would be the front-runners, but neither has pulled away and Javelle Allen, Anu Solomon and Nick Isham have all kept pace. They’ve all shared close to equal reps in camp, so at least there is continuity with the receivers seeing all of the QBs (Denker is the only lefty). The fact that the Wildcats have a fairly easy nonconference schedule bodes well. Rodriguez has already said it’s possible he could start three different quarterbacks the first three weeks before Arizona opens league play on the road at Washington on Sept. 28. There are a few more practices coming up before the Wildcats get into “game week” mode, so every rep will count.

Forecast: It hasn’t been the greatest offseason for the Wildcats. The opening of the new facility and a couple of awesome! videos (Part I and Part II) were overshadowed by Carey’s off-field indiscretions, the loss of wide receiver Austin Hill to injury and the departure of receiver Tyler Slavin. Once thought to be their strongest position group, the Wildcats now find themselves struggling with some wide receiver depth.

Terrence Miller, Garic Wharton and Johnny Jackson make up a solid starting three, and David Richards, though hampered by injuries, is a solid 3B. And Jenkins can be a do-it-all guy, but it’s still an area of concern.

Matt Scott was obviously a huge part of the offense. And he and Carey complemented each other nicely. It will be interesting to see if Carey continues his outstanding pace with a new quarterback. The belief is that there will be just as much passing as last season, and given Arizona’s scheme, it’s unlikely Carey will be seeing many eight- and nine-man boxes.

The offensive line should also be solid. Quinn was an underappreciated center and he’ll be missed, but Ebbele, Baucus and Putton (who will be plugged in as needed) make up a strong troika.

Defensively, the question is if this group, which returns virtually every starter from last year, got better. Fischer and Flowers are legit playmakers, and you’d think a second year in the 3-3-5 will help. As explosive as the Wildcats were offensively, the defense gave up more than 35 points a game -- ranking 102nd nationally. Fortunately, the offense averaged better than 38 points per game.

Arizona is an extremely intriguing team. If Rodriguez can make the quarterback spot plug-and-play, and Scott’s production can be mostly replicated, that will take a lot of pressure off Carey, who could be in for another big season. And, if the defense is improved, the offense won’t have to feel like it has to win every game.

But those are two big ifs.

Arizona Wildcats spring wrap

May, 8, 2013
5/08/13
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ARIZONA WILDCATS

2012 record: 8-5
2012 conference record: 4-5 (fourth in South Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 11; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners
RB Ka'Deem Carey, WR David Richards, LB Jake Fischer, LB Marquis Flowers, WR Terrence Miller, OL Fabbians Ebbele, OL Mickey Baucus.

Key losses
QB Matt Scott, WR Dan Buckner, C Kyle Quinn, DL Dominique Austin, OL Trace Biskin.

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Ka'Deem Carey* (1,929 yards)
Passing: Matt Scott (3,620 yards)
Receiving: Austin Hill* (1,364, suffered ACL tear in spring, out indefinitely)
Tackles: Jake Fischer* (119)
Sacks: Marquis Flowers* (5.5)
Interceptions: Marquis Flowers* and Jonathan McKnight* (3)

Spring answers

1. Plenty of weapons: Yes, Austin Hill's injury is brutal. Yes, it's a big blow to the Wildcats. Is it a game-changer? Maybe, maybe not. It's not like the Cats are strapped for receiving options. Johnny Jackson, David Richards, Tyler Slavin and Garic Wharton still make up an awfully formidable receiving corps. If a couple emerge, Arizona will be OK. If they all do, the Wildcats might not miss a beat.

2. The whole defense returns: Great -- except that the defense struggled last season. Having a ton of starters back is a good thing -- but only if they get better. A second year in the 3-3-5 should naturally lend itself to less thinking and more playing. And it's not just the starting 11. There are 20 defensive players who notched at least one start last season -- so there is depth to go with the experience.

3. O-line rising: It's no easy task replacing center Kyle Quinn. But the good thing about Arizona's line is that its members are versatile and can play multiple positions. Mickey Baucus (LT) and Fabbians Ebbele (RT) started every game last year and Chris Putton started multiple games at both guard spots and can also play center. The five isn't set -- but there is room and depth to mix and match.

Fall questions

1. QB roulette? Unlike with some other Pac-12 teams with quarterback competitions, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez doesn't want to name his starter and then stand by his man. He could name a different starter the next day. And then a different one the day after that. Rodriguez said he could have three different quarterbacks start the first three weeks of the season. Many feel B.J. Denker had the strongest spring with Jesse Scroggins slowed by injury. Stay tuned.

2. Ready to lead? Did Matt Scott make Ka'Deem Carey look good? Or did Carey make Scott look good? Most think it was a bit of both. With Scott gone and Carey now a national name, the target will be squarely on the chest of last season's national leader in rushing. Carey isn't going to surprise anyone. Can he duplicate 2012's production with the increased attention and a new quarterback at the helm?

3. Injuries stink: That's not so much a fall question as a statement on the olfactory unpleasantness of injuries. The Wildcats had as many as 20 injuries this spring, meaning a lot of players who might not start in the fall got to start in the spring. That's great for depth, but it leaves a lot of holes and a lot of questions still be to be answered when the bulk of those injured players return in the fall.
So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life.

Biggest shoes to fill: Arizona

March, 26, 2013
3/26/13
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Starters in, starters out. That’s college football. Players’ eligibility expires, and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

Biggest shoes: QB Matt Scott

Without question, it's the quarterback who guided the Wildcats to an 8-5 mark in their first season under Rich Rodriguez and was second-team all-conference who leaves the biggest shoes to fill. Scott led the Pac-12 and finished sixth nationally in total offense, accounting for almost 344 yards per game. He completed 60.3 percent of his throws with 27 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. He also rushed for six touchdowns. He was tailor-made for the RichRod offense, and in just one season helped elevate the profile of the program -- so much so that the Wildcats are being discussed as a team in play for the South title in 2013. The question is, how much of a drop-off will there be in his absence?

Stepping in: To be determined ...

Everyone loves a quarterback competition -- except for coaches, who would much rather have their starter already in place when spring starts. But the Arizona quarterback-to-be has some great weapons to work with -- like the nation's leading rusher last year in Ka'Deem Carey and a potential Biletnikoff Award finalist in Austin Hill. Worth noting, too, that whoever wins the job will also be working with a new center with Chris Putton and Beau Boyster in the mix to replace Kyle Quinn. B.J. Denker, Jesse Scroggins, Javelle Allen, and incoming freshman Anu Solomon will all get a chance -- though Denker has been getting a lot of the reps this spring with Scroggins recovering from foot surgery. Denker had a little bit of work last season -- though Solomon could be the X factor as one of the higher-rated dual-threat quarterbacks.

Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

February, 22, 2013
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Here are some keys and storylines to watch this spring in the South Division. Yesterday Ted looked at the North Division.

ARIZONA WILDCATS

Start date: March 3

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. New battery: The Wildcats are looking to replace a top-notch quarterback-center combo in Matt Scott and Kyle Quinn. The rock-solid duo helped produce one of the top offenses in the league. Jesse Scroggins and B.J. Denker are among those in the mix to run the offense and several returning offensive linemen are versatile enough to move around. Chris Putton and redshirt freshman Beau Boyster could be in the mix at center.
  2. Many happy return(er)s: Arizona returns a big chunk of its offensive production -- including running back Ka'Deem Carey and receiver Austin Hill. Both should be on all sorts of preseason teams and awards watch lists. But behind the big names, there's also David Richards, Johnny Jackson, Tyler Slavin and Garic Wharton back in the mix.
  3. No learning curve: Last spring, the talk was about Rich Rodriguez calling out his team for its lack of physical conditioning. The fact that the majority of the team understands what is expected -- and they don't need to spend the whole spring learning new systems, should be a huge help. Consider that the Wildcats return their entire defense from a group that was, at times, shaky, but will certainly benefit from another full season of playing in the 3-3-5 scheme.
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS

Start date: March 19

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Plugging the middle: One of the few losses to ASU's roster is middle linebacker Brandon Magee -- a leader on and off the field and an all-around heck of a player. Carlos Mendoza looks to be a good fit -- though he's likely to miss spring while continuing to recover from a shoulder injury suffered against Illinois. Folks might remember his two interceptions before going down for the year.
  2. Catching on: Unlike last spring, the Sun Devils have their quarterback. And he's a good one. Now, they need to find folks he can throw to. JC transfers De'Marieya Nelson (H-back, 6-3, 230) and Jaelen Strong (WR, 6-4, 205) are both big bodies who could step in and contribute immediately.
  3. Wait and see: The kicker here is a lot of these players who are expected to compete won't arrive until the fall. So in the meantime, a lot of the younger players and redshirts will get a ton of reps in the system. And speaking of kicker, don't underestimate how much of an impact Josh Hubner made at punter. Iowan Matt Haack, who arrives in the fall, is a rugby-style kicker who can kick with either foot. That's just cool.
COLORADO BUFFALOES

Start date: March 7

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Meet your QB: Whomever it will be. There are five on the roster and a sixth coming in. Safe to say, quarterback play was extremely inconsistent last season for the Buffs. With an entirely new coaching staff coming in and installing the pistol, this could be one of the more interesting and wide-open position battles in the league.
  2. Curious defense: One needs only to review Colorado's national rankings last year to realize they struggled. As one Buffs insider mentioned to me, they were ranked No. 1 in a lot of categories. Unfortunately, that "1" was followed by two more numbers. Only three defensive ends have playing experience. However a secondary that lacked experience in 2012 has a lot more looking into 2013.
  3. Receiver options: The Buffs welcome back Paul Richardson, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Colorado's premier offensive playmaker will be a nice veteran presence to whomever wins the quarterback job. Grayshirt Jeff Thomas also is back. An improved passing attack should help give the quarterback some confidence and open up the running game.
UCLA BRUINS

Start date: April 2

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:
  1. Life after Franklin: The Bruins say goodbye to the best statistical back in school history -- leaving a huge void in the backfield. Johnathan Franklin was a great presence for young quarterback Brett Hundley, but now someone has to step up to fill that role, either solo or along with a committee. Look for Jordon James, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen to all get looks.
  2. New No. 1: The Y-receiver, aka hybrid tight end, was filled wonderfully by Joseph Fauria -- Hundley's favorite red zone target. Darius Bell and Ian Taubler both had looks last year, but Fauria too will be tough to replace. Shaq Evans, Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton and Devin Lucien round out a pretty good receiving corps.
  3. Secondary solutions: The Bruins must replace two corners and a safety -- Sheldon Price, Aaron Hester, Andrew Abbott -- and there isn't a ton of starting experience. Randall Goforth has five starts, but veterans such as Brandon Sermons and Anthony Jefferson have more special-teams experience than actual secondary play. Keep an eye on the secondary too when the Bruins start fall camp to see if any freshmen jump into the mix immediately.
USC TROJANS

Start date: TBD

Spring game: April 13
  1. New defensive scheme: The Trojans will move to a 5-2 defensive scheme under Clancy Pendergast, and the spring drills will be the first opportunity to see the defense in action. The Trojans will have an experienced front seven, but four new starters are expected in the secondary.
  2. Replacing Barkley: Max Wittek got the first extended audition in the battle to take over for Matt Barkley, but he didn’t do enough in two late-season starts to claim the job. Cody Kessler and freshman spring enrollee Max Browne also will be looking to take the reins at one of the glamour positions in college football.
  3. Lane Kiffin on the hot seat: The Trojans are coming off a disappointing season, and the fans are howling in protest, but so far his boss Pat Haden has maintained full support for his coach. Now is the time for Kiffin to show why that support is warranted. -- Garry Paskwietz, WeAreSC
UTAH UTES

Start date: March 19

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Erickson impact: The biggest question was what sort of role Dennis Erickson would play in the offense once he arrived. We'll know sooner than later. He already has talked about putting an identity on the Utah offense. That starts in spring when routines are established and expectations are set. And with Erickson on board to give the offense a push, the expectations will be much higher.
  2. Wilson maturing: That leads us to the presumptive starting quarterback -- Travis Wilson -- who jumped in midseason after Jordan Wynn got hurt and Jon Hays struggled to produce. Wilson went from OK to pretty good in just a few weeks. A nice jump considering his experience level. With an entire offseason knowing he'll be the starter -- and with Erickson and Brian Johnson molding him -- it will be interesting to see what progress he makes this spring.
  3. D-line makeover: The Utes lose some talent on the defensive line -- specifically All-American defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Look for DE/LB Trevor Reilly to spend more time with his hand down. Tenny Palepoi, LT Tuipulotu and JC transfer Sese Ianu could all see time in the mix at defensive tackle.

Lunch links: Oregon vs. the SEC

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
2:30
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You just better start sniffin' your own rank subjugation jack 'cause it's just you against your tattered libido, the bank and the mortician, forever man and it wouldn't be luck if you could get out of life alive.
 
Every team has a strength -- that one position group that can make a play on offense or make a big stop on defense when needed.

Based on what happened this spring, we're going to look at the strongest position group for each school. It could be on either side of the ball -- and it could be subject to change after fall camp goes into full swing.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.

Arizona

Strongest position group: Offensive line

Headliner: Kyle Quinn (6-3, 300), center

Supporting cast: T Mickey Baucus (6-8, 290); T Fabbians Ebbele (6-8, 305); G Chris Putton (6-4, 282); G Trace Biskin (6-5, 282)

The skinny: The first thought was the defensive backs -- there are some good headliners in the secondary and a lot of depth. But the fact that the Wildcats potentially return their entire starting offensive line from last season outweighs the secondary's depth.

Three returning offensive linemen is good. Four is great. But to have the entire cast back is such a huge advantage in terms of timing, continuity and overall familiarity. This will help soften the blow of adjusting to a new offense because while the scheme might be different -- no one has to be broken in to a new position.

Further, offensive line coach Robert Anae was re-hired by new coach Rich Rodgriguez which gives this unit even more continuity.

Quinn is the steady Eddie of the group. The senior has started the last 14 games has made 33 appearances over the course of his career. He returns after earning all-conference honorable mention last year and anchors the line with consistency and authority.

Baucus and Ebbele are big boys on the outside (assuming Ebbele does everything asked of him to return to the team following an off-the-field incident) and Putton and Biskin have a bunch of experience.

Quinn, Baucus and Ebbele started every game last season and as a unit, they started seven games together.

Worth noting also that they have all dropped some weight from last season. Quicker is going to be better as the Wildcats look to run the ball significantly more this season.

Some pre-spring Arizona notes

March, 5, 2010
3/05/10
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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Will have a lot more from Arizona spring practices, but here are some notes and depth chart updates after a round of interviews.
  • Coach Mike Stoops said he still hasn't decided who will call plays on offense and defense. He said that he'll make that decision after evaluating his options during spring practices. Stoops lost both coordinators this offseason -- Sonny Dykes on offense and Mark Stoops on defense -- and replaced them with co-coordinators, Bill Bedenbaugh and Seth Littrell on offense and Greg Brown and Tim Kish on defense. Only Brown, who came from Colorado, wasn't already on staff.
  • Three key players will sit out this spring. Starting guard Vaughn Dotsy had back surgery on Wednesday. Running back Greg Nwoko is still recovering from a shoulder injury. Projected starting defensive tackle Dominique Austin is out with a toe injury.
  • While Nick Foles is the No. 1 quarterback, coaches are emphasizing that backup Matt Scott will play a role this year. And if he outplays Foles this spring, the QB competition will be on again in the preseason.
  • The Wildcats are replacing all three starting linebackers from 2009. Junior college transfers Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls are listed as the first-team "Will" and "Mike" linebackers, respectively. Jake Fischer is No. 1 at "Sam."
  • Joe Perkins steps in for Cam Nelson at free safety, while Marcus Benjamin replaces Devin Ross at cornerback opposite Trevin Wade.
  • With Austin out, JC transfer Jonathan Hollins steps in at defensive tackle besides nose tackle Lolomana Mikaele.
  • Richard Morrison has moved from quarterback to receiver.
  • With offensive lineman Adam Grant getting a sixth year of eligibility, he slides in at left tackle with Phillip Garcia opposite him on the right side. Colin Baxter is the center and Conan Amituanai is the left guard. With Dotsy out, Jovon Hayes, Chris Putton and Trace Biskin will get looks.

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