Revamped offensive line to be Wildcats' first big test

By Craig Degel

Arizona Daily Wildcat

To say that Arizona offensive line coach Charlie Dickey had his work cut out for him this season would be an understatement.

All five members of last season's offensive line graduated and of the twenty linemen on this season's roster only five had ever played in a Division-I football game and just one had ever started.

"We've still got a long way to go," Dickey said of his group's progress. "Right now we're worried about Pacific."

On Sept. 2, five new linemen will step onto the field for the Wildcats. While those five may start, the backups figure to play a good deal as the coaching staff tries to find the best five in preparation for its Pacific 10 Conference opener against Southern Cal.

"The backups will play early and often," Arizona head coach Dick Tomey said.

Senior Mani Ott, the Wildcats lone lineman with a start under his belt, will anchor the line as the starting center. Ott was one of many true freshmen to see playing time during the Wildcats' 1991 campaign that saw the team get decimated by injuries. Dickey credited Ott with being a big help to the new members of the offensive line corps.

Tomey and the rest of his staff, in anticipation of the graduation of the line, heavily recruited the junior college ranks for quality offensive linemen. What they got were some big, athletic players who are ready to step up and make big contributions to the Wildcats search for that elusive first-ever Rose Bowl berth.

Ian McCutcheon will be the starting left tackle an important position with a right-handed quarterback. Dan White, Arizona's senior quarterback, throws the football right-handed, relying on the left-side of the line to protect his blindside. McCutcheon was a junior college All-America at Cerritos (Calif.) College.

If the job of an offensive lineman is to be big and get in a person's way than left guard Frank Middleton is a natural. Middleton stands at 6 feet, 5 inches and weighs close to 350 pounds. That's down 20 pounds from the weight which he reported to Camp Cochise at. His athleticism, however, is apparent considering last season he recorded 78 tackles and 9 sacks for Fort Scott (Kan.) College on his way to earning All-America honors on both sides of the ball. All throughout the preseason, Middleton has worked tirelessly on his conditioning. He once said all he hoped to do was get up and down the field 3 times without dying, so he has made some progress.

"Everything's going great. I can probably do it 10 times now," Middleton said, laughing.

If there were an award for comeback player of the year, senior right guard Bryan Hand would easily be the early frontrunner. Hand worked his way from third teamer to starter over the one-week long Camp Cochise. All this after sitting out last season with a broken leg and having to appeal to the NCAA for just one more season. Hand weighed as much as 312 pounds before trimming down to his current 280.

"You have to count on friends and family," Hand said of his ability to make it through tough times. "Sometimes I find myself looking at the period clock during practice, but then I realize I have to concentrate on practice and to be ready to rock and roll on Saturday."

Junior Willie Walker will start next to Hand at right tackle. Walker was a backup to last year's senior-dominated offensive line, learning the guard position behind All-Pac-10 performer Warner Smith. Walker originally signed a letter of intent to play football at Arizona but eligibility complications forced him to start his career at Eastern New Mexico.

Many other linemen figure to see a good deal of playing time throughout the course of the season. Junior college tranfer Ryan Turley enrolled at Arizona in the spring after completeing a two-year Mormon mission. At 6 feet, 7 inches and 300 pounds, Turley figures to be a force at the tackle position. Guards Mike Mannely and Tevete Usu also figure to see time along with tackle David Watson.

So Arizona is resting its hopes on a brand new offensive line. Perhaps Arizona's new corps of lineman could learn something from another group of unsung Pac-10 lineman.

"Oregon went into last year with a whole new offensive line and look how successful they were," Tomey said. "I think the one thing that really impressed was the performance of our offensive line against our defensive line this past spring. I have really liked what I have seen from this line."

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