The Arizona Wildcats will take on Iowa this weekend without their best player.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski will miss his third consecutive start with a lower back strain, coach Mike Stoops said following Wednesday night's practice. Gronkowski will travel with the team to Iowa City but will not play.
Stoops would not go into specifics except to say that coaches and the all-conference tight end will "make some kind of decision what to do next over the next few days, but he won't play Saturday."
Gronkowski, 20, strained his back during the off-season and was held out of all full-contact activities during training camp. He returned to practice Monday and Tuesday, sparking optimism that he could be cleared to play against Iowa.
Wednesday brought an apparent change of plans.
Gronkowski did not dress for practice. He spent the first hour riding a stationary bike on the sidelines, then watched team drills from near the Wildcats' huddle.
What that means for his future is up in the air.
Gronkowski has been off-limits to the media since training camp, and Stoops has been short on details.
"I'm not going to get into his injury, but he's out," Stoops said. "End of story."
Gronkowski was expected to be the Wildcats' No. 1 offensive option as a junior. The 6-foot-6-inch, 265-pound tight end caught 47 passes for 672 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2008 despite missing the first three games with mononucleosis. Heading into his junior season, Gronkowski was considered a favorite to win the John Mackey Award.
Instead, he will miss another game.
Offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said the Wildcats will stick to their game plan, with or without Gronkowski. A.J. Simmons will start at tight end for the third time this season.
"We need to keep doing what we've been doing, but do it better," Dykes said. "A.J.'s done a great job for us. We've worked him into the ground, but I think he's gotten better and improved. He's probably lost 20 pounds, too, because he's getting a million reps."
Simmons may take Gronkowski's spot Saturday. Replacing him, however, will be harder.
"I mean, it's Robby. That guy's on a whole other level," right tackle Adam Grant said. "I'll miss him a lot, but we'll survive without him."
• Who: Arizona at Iowa
• When: 12:35 p.m. Saturday
• TV: Channel 9
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM