Last year's newbies set to step up

2010-07-05T00:00:00Z Last year's newbies set to step upRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 05, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Jake Fischer cringes when he thinks back to his freshman year.

"When we first came in," the Arizona Wildcats linebacker said, "none of us knew what we were doing."

Arizona will open training camp Aug. 5, a month from today, and one thing is certain. The new freshman class will likely be just as clueless as the UA's 2009 group - and just about every class of newbies ever assembled.

The task of refreshing a team damaged by off-season departures will fall to the Wildcats' second-year players. A dozen sophomores and redshirt freshmen are expected to challenge for considerable playing time this fall.

Some, like Fischer, played sparingly in 2009; the rest redshirted, drinking in coach Mike Stoops' system in big gulps. Starting in a month, the not-so-newcomers will have a chance to show what they've learned.

"Camp is very important for us," said redshirt freshman wide receiver Richard Morrison. "There are more opportunities for us to show what we can do. … In camp, they focus on the 1s and 2s (on the depth chart). It shows who can play and who can't. If you don't produce in camp, you sit on the sidelines."

Some players will have an easier road than others.

Fullback Taimi Tutogi was the only true freshman to play extensively a year ago on offense, in part because there was so little competition at his position. Chris Gronkowski began the season as the Wildcats starting fullback, but moved around the field - to tight end and, eventually, wide receiver - when his brother, Rob, got hurt.

With Chris Gronkowski gone, the job is Tutogi's to lose.

The same goes for Fischer and another linebacker, redshirt freshman Trevor Erno.

The Wildcats must replace all three starting linebackers from a year ago. While junior college transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo bring some much-needed size and maturity, it's the second-year guys - Fischer and Erno - who are expected to step up starting in preseason camp. They manned two of the UA's three starting spots in spring drills, and will be tested even more in training camp.

Fischer said the chance to watch from the sidelines last year was "a major advantage," and a main reason he's ready to contribute as a sophomore. Fischer studied the basics of the system last fall; spring drills gave him a chance to test out what he learned.

By then, the "freshman tag" was long gone.

"After your first spring, they expect you to study a lot of film," Fischer said. "Going into your second (training) camp, if you make one of those mistakes again … well, maybe the first time, they might be a little easy on you. After that, you better know what you're doing."

Wide receiver Gino Crump joked that it took "two or three practices" last year before coaches expected him to know the playbook.

There will be even less margin for error this year.

Crump, a junior in his second season in the UA system, is expected to challenge for one of the Wildcats outside receiver spots. Even with Delashaun Dean gone from the team, Crump will still face competition. The same goes for sophomore safety Adam Hall, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Sione Tuihalamaka and a handful of others who are expected to step up in their second years in the program.

They have a month to get ready.

"The youth of our team is definitely expecting to mature this season," Crump said. "Coming into this season, we have a lot of young guys with a lot of speed and a lot of talent. We know that.

"They're definitely expecting us to come up big for the team."

SECOND YEAR, FIRST SHOT

Arizona's second-year players are expected to play key roles this fall. Keep an eye on these seven players:

WR Gino Crump

• 2009: Redshirted

• 2010 projection: Will compete for starting "Z" receiver job.

LB Trevor Erno

• 2009: Redshirted

• 2010 projection: Will challenge Derek Earls for the starting middle linebacker spot.

LB Jake Fischer

• 2009: Registered seven tackles in 13 games.

• 2010 projection: Will start at the strong-side linebacker spot.

S Adam Hall

• 2009: Registered nine tackles in nine games.

• 2010 projection: Will challenge Joe Perkins for the starting free safety spot.

WR Terrence Miller

• 2009: Played in seven games, catching two passes for 26 yards.

• 2010 projection: Will back up Dave Roberts at small tight end.

DT Sione Tuihalamaka

• 2009: Redshirted

• 2010 projection: Will start on the defensive line.

FB Taimi Tutogi

• 2009: Rushed 11 times for 50 yards and a touchdown.

• 2010 projection: Will start at blocking back.

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