ARIZONA FOOTBALL

'Ace' in the hole ready

Jack-of-all-trades Simmons gives Cats three of a kind: fullback, blocker, tight end
2010-08-17T00:00:00Z 2010-08-17T00:09:57Z 'Ace' in the hole readyRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 17, 2010 12:00 am  • 

A.J. Simmons spent his junior season filling in for injured Rob Gronkowski at tight end.

So when fullback/H-back Taimi Tutogi went down with an ankle injury last week, Simmons knew the drill.

"I guess I'm filling some shoes now," he said.

Again.

Simmons has been playing three positions - tight end, fullback and H-back - for most of the last week. The length of Tutogi's recovery will determine whether Simmons' move to the fullback/H-back job is only temporary or a long-term solution.

The Wildcats open their season Sept. 3 at Toledo.

"I'm getting more comfortable every time we practice," he said.

For now, you can catch Simmons:

Catching passes

Simmons, 22, spent most of the past year improving his pass-catching skills, a key for someone who's frequently asked to serve as a "safety valve" on passing plays. Slowly, he's getting better.

Simmons made a running, one-handed catch during the Wildcats' Thursday night practice at Fort Huachuca - the impressive grab stands as arguably the best in camp so far.

Simmons made the catch from the "ace," or single running back, position. Most of his touches this season will come from the tight end spot.

Though Simmons said he'll "do whatever they ask me to do," he clearly enjoys factoring into the team's passing attack.

Gronkowski was the focus of the UA offense in 2008, catching 47 passes for 672 yards and 10 touchdowns. Simmons caught just 10 balls for 132 yards and a touchdown from Gronkowski's spot last year.

"Last year, I definitely got a lot more reps. I feel a lot more comfortable with the offense," he said. "I feel a lot better about the season.

"Hopefully, we get more involved than we were last year. That's kind of what the message has been to us so far. I guess we'll see when we kick off against Toledo."

Run-blocking

Despite his efforts to improve as an offensive threat, the 6-foot-3-inch, 255-pound Simmons is still best known as a run-blocker.

It's always been that way.

The Oakland, Calif., native served mostly as a blocker at Bishop O'Dowd High School. With Simmons leading the way, the Dragons rushed for 2,734 yards in 2005. Despite being one of Northern California's top recruits, Simmons never caught more than 19 passes a year in high school. His UA career has included single-season totals of one, two and 10 grabs. Don't be surprised if Simmons is used mostly as a sixth offensive lineman this season.

Lead-blocking

Simmons' move to Tutogi's fullback/H-back position comes with one perk, he said. Lead-blocking for tailbacks allows him to tee off on blitzing linebackers, a battle he usually wins.

"I get a chance to blow some people up," he said. "It's definitely a fun position."

The move has come with a few adjustments. Not only does Simmons have to learn a new position, he must read defenses and know which players to block. With a smile, Simmons said the fullback/H-back spot is "a lot more responsibility."

"Since Taimi went down, I'm right there, doing it," he said. "I'm filling his shoes - for now."

Extra points

• Two more Wildcats have landed on preseason watch lists. Junior Nick Foles is a preseason candidate for the Manning Award, given annually to the nation's top quarterback. Junior Juron Criner is up for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the top wide receiver.

• Arizona continues to be picked as a middle-of-the-pack team in its conference. Sports Illustrated, released this week, has the Wildcats finishing 8-4 overall and 6-3 in the Pac-10, tied for third behind Oregon and Oregon State.

TRAINING CAMP INSIDER

Day 12 at Rincon Vista

• Highlights: The Arizona Wildcats' beleaguered defense put together two strong practices Monday, two days after struggling in a Sierra Vista scrimmage. Trevin Wade had an interception during the evening practice at Rincon Vista; Dominique Austin and Ricky Elmore both had sacks. Safety Marquis Flowers had the hit of the night - during a noncontact drill. Flowers nailed David Roberts during 7-on-7s, knocking the receiver out for a few plays and earning a few choice words from coach Mike Stoops. The late practice ended when kicker Alex Zendejas drilled a 45-yard field goal. The Wildcats secondary played well during the morning practice: Robert Golden had a leaping interception of a Matt Scott pass, and Anthony Wilcox laid out freshman Austin Hill after the freshman wideout caught a pass near the sideline. Nick Foles, back on the field after missing Saturday's scrimmage with a pulled groin, hit receiver Tyler Slavin for a 70-yard pass. UA president Robert Shelton and former Wildcats Mike Diaz and Darrell Brooks all visited practice Monday.

• Weather: 95 and sticky in the evening; 83 degrees and cloudy in the morning.

• Injury report: Foles, Flowers, running back Keola Antolin and guard Conan Amituanai all returned to practice after missing time with injuries. Linebacker Trevor Erno (shoulder sprain) and offensive tackle Mickey Baucus (ankle sprain) watched from the sidelines; they are day-to-day. Wide receiver Juron Criner (concussion), fullback Taimi Tutogi (sprained ankle) and guard Vaughn Dotsy (back surgery) are all out with their injuries.

• The big number: 2 - Number of practices Monday, the second "two-a-day" of camp. The Wildcats will hold their third and final double-day of camp on Wednesday.

Ryan Finley

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