The games don’t start until Sept. 2, but the competition has already begun. The Arizona football team begins fall training camp this week hoping to improve on back-to-back 3-8 seasons.
Even though the Wildcats return a conference-best 17 starters, camp will be a blur of competition.
Returners, incoming freshmen and junior-college transfers will battle for the few open positions — and a handful of the filled ones — before the season opener against Brigham Young at Arizona Stadium.
Here are five position battles to watch as camp opens:
Junior Chris Henry is a physical specimen, but he struggled with fumbling last season and into spring practice. While the job is Henry’s to lose as long as he can hold on to the ball, look for Xavier Smith and incoming freshman Derke Robinson to challenge for the starting job if there are issues.
For now, we like: Henry.
The running back has a freakish physique, good power and decent speed, not to mention valuable big-game experience. He just can’t drop the ball.
Transfer Kyle McQuown did a good job as the Wildcats’ only punter in the spring but could face competition once camp starts.
Incoming freshman Keenyn Crier is expected to challenge for the job as a walkon; senior placekicker Nick Folk could also handle the duties if needed.
For now, we like: McQuown.
He averaged 43 yards per punt in two years at Idaho State, and proved in spring camp that he can kick away from the Pocatello, Idaho, elevation. Maybe the junior will benefit from the added competition.
Dominic Patrick and Brandon Tatum enter fall camp in a dead heat for Darrell Brooks’ old position after playing special teams in 2005. Both players are 6-foot-1, though Patrick is about 15 pounds heavier.
For now, we like: Patrick.
The junior has an extra year of experience and possesses a nasty streak on the field, perfect for someone trying to follow Brooks’ lead. The Houston native opened eyes with a solid performance in the spring game.
Brad Wood caught 27 passes for six touchdowns in 2005 but is listed second on the Cats’ depth chart behind Brandyn McCall heading into camp.
For now, we like: Both.
Wood is expected to be an offensive leader as a senior despite offseason knee surgery. McCall — a junior who started last year’s opener before taking a medical redshirt — should get plenty of touches as well. The 6-foot-4 McCall made a nifty catch in the spring game.
Jonathan Turner, Yaniv Barnett, Lionel Dotson and Marcus Smith are listed first on Arizona’s current depth chart. But the Wildcats’ roster doesn’t yet include Louis Holmes, the five-star junior-college recruit who is expected to report to camp today. Add in ends Michael Shelton and Jason Parker, tackles Dave Bertrand and Rickey Parker and long-shot junior-college transfer Gabe Long, and Arizona could be D-Line U in 2006.
For now, we like: Everybody.
The Cats have can’t-miss bookends in Holmes (6-6, 270 pounds) and Smith (6-5, 281). Barnett and Dotson both have valuable experience at the tackle spots — Barnett started all 11 games there last year, while Dotson has played in 17 games over two seasons.
UA fast facts
• Arizona was picked sixth in the Pac-10 at last week’s conference media day. The Wildcats haven’t been picked higher than eighth since 1999.
• UA boasts its best-ever recruiting class, which included eight players with four-star or higher rankings.
• The Cats have gone 3-8 in the last two seasons and are a combined 17-36 since Dick Tomey was fired following the 2000 season.
• Arizona has not made a bowl game since 1998, when the Cats defeated Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.