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August 10, 2012

Minor injuries pile up on defense

FORT HUACHUCA - The newest addition to Arizona's thin linebacker corps is now one of the latest to land on the sidelines.

Greg Nwoko, a running back who was moved to the defense in a blue jersey with no number just before Thursday's second practice, was among the handful of banged up players in yellow, no-contact jerseys Friday morning. The senior was the only player on crutches, however.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez said the severity of his leg injury and a timetable for a return is unknown.

"It depends on how much pain he can tolerate," said Rodriguez, who added that the decision to move him to linebacker was "probably a minute before" the second of the team's two-a-days.

Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jeff Casteel has been looking for extra bodies to move to linebacker because of the lack of depth that was only made worse by the departures of Brian Wagner and David Lopez after the spring. Rodriguez said Nwoko "showed enough flashes" at the position to continue the experiment when he does return.

"Hopefully he'll be back soon, and coach Casteel will put a group together," Rodriguez said.

Also on the sidelines in yellow jerseys from the linebacker corps were middle linebacker Rob Hankins and true freshman Dakota Conwell, who is expected to contribute immediately. As a result, walk-on Shadow Williams was spotted at middle linebacker between projected starters Jake Fischer and Hank Hobson.

Without a true depth chart, Rodriguez added that he will continue to give repetitions to three different groups of linebackers for the next three or four days "and then see what happens."

"I don't think we can keep doing that for another week," Rodriguez added.

Conwell and center Kyle Quinn both suffered minor ankle injuries and spent the session on the exercise bikes with the rest of the players who sat out. Among that group: cornerback Jonathan McKnight, tight end Drew Robinson and defensive lineman Kirifi Taula.

But aside from Nwoko, Rodriguez said the rest of the group was held out more for "precautionary" reasons and each is listed as day-to-day.

"It's probably typical camp stuff so we'll see if they fight through it," Rodriguez said.

The timing of the injuries - albeit minor - could not have come at a worse time for a defense that is trying to prepare a handful of impact freshmen, but at the same time trying to continue to improve its execution of the 3-3-5 odd stack system without key personnel. The season opener against Toledo is now just three weeks away.

"I wish we had more time," Rodriguez said. "That's why it's silly that we can't work with the kids in the summer like the basketball coaches can. In one month, a lot of young guys have to get ready to play a game. It's not the best situation, but those are the rules and we'll go by them and see what happens."

The Wildcats did upgrade the status of a few players, however. Place-kicker John Bonano was back at full strength, while offensive tackle Fabbians Ebbele, receiver Richard Morrison and defensive lineman Willie Mobley all swapped yellow jerseys for green ones and increased their activity as they each near a full recovery.

The team will have a light Saturday morning practice starting at 8:30 a.m., followed by a 90-minute scrimmage at Bujalski Field starting at 5:30 p.m.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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