Senior steps up to starting role
When junior Anthony Thomas went down with a severe ankle sprain at Camp Cochise, the Wildcat coaches were left with a hole on the defensive line at right tackle.
And even though senior tackle J.J. Joppru had only four tackles last year, he earned the job alongside returning starters Mike Robertson, Keoni Fraser and Joe Tafoya.
"He sure did," UA head coach Dick Tomey said of Joppru winning the starting job. "He's a senior. He made great strides in practice."
Joppru transferred to UA in 1997 from Fullerton (Calif.) College, where he was both a defensive end and a tight end. He recorded 5.5 sacks in his last five games there but had to redshirt his first year at Arizona. He saw limited time as a backup last year.
"I have to know my stuff, play hard, keep my assignment, contribute and play solid," Joppru said.
There isn't quite as much pressure on Joppru as Tomey said the defensive line will be more of an interchangeable unit.
"We're not going to be using just those four, though, for the whole game," he said. "We're going to be rotating people in and out of there."
Tomey said Tafoya will play the most of the four starters but that doesn't mean Joppru won't see the majority of time at his position. His concerns, though, are mainly on improving himself rather than worrying about the entire line.
For the whole unit, Joppru said they still have some little things to work on.
"We have to get smoother in practice and smooth out some rough edges," he said. "Everyone is real excited and we just got to get it right. We have to fix the intricacies and make sure it is a smooth machine, and everybody is playing our part."
Tomey admitted that the UA coaches don't know where Penn State is going to line-up highly-touted linebacker LaVar Arrington.
But Tomey does know where Nittany Lions defensive end Courtney Brown is going to be.
"That's a hard match up for us," Tomey said. "I don't know how long his arms are, but they are big-time long."
Brown's total wingspan, the distance from fingertip to fingertip with his arms outstretched, is listed as 86 inches in Sports Illustrated. That's 7-foot-2, which is one inch wider than UA basketball center Loren Woods is tall.
"How are you supposed to be as wide as you are tall?" UA sophomore left tackle Makoa Freitas asked upon learning of Brown's reach.
Tomey said Freitas will learn quickly, as he's the man UA will line up against Brown.
"I think that's where they'll put him (Brown)," Tomey said. "So that'll be a real test for Makoa. We're talking about a five year senior against a true sophomore."
Brown had 47 tackles last year, 37 of them solo, with 11.5 sacks and 23 tackles for a loss. He was a first team All-Big Ten player last year and a Pro Football Weekly All-American.
Despite all that, Freitas said the best way to stop a player of Brown's caliber is to approach him the same way he would any other opponent.
"You've just got to stay low and get off the ball fast," Freitas said. "You have to work on your fundamentals."
UA senior running back Trung Canidate has been under the microscope throughout the preseason. Now even his subconscious is coming up, not that he minds sharing it.
"I have dreams about doing spectacular things to help this team win," he said.
When asked about the Penn State game, Canidate said, "I daydream about this game. It's a big game. I mean, it's your first game, it's all you've got to think about all summer when you're working out."
Then there's thinking about Arrington, whose infamous leap over the Illinois offensive line crushed Illini running back Elmer Hickman last year.
But Canidate said he's not worried about Arrington's leaping ability.
"I haven't woken up and had my head decapitated or nothing," Canidate said. "I think I'd make a move on that (the leap).