The Arizona Wildcats reported for training camp Sunday and will practice for the first time on Monday.
Who will their most valuable players be this season?
Here are some to watch for 2017, as selected by Star reporter Michael Lev.
It’s important to note that everyone on the roster — from the starting quarterback to the scout-team walk-ons — has value. This countdown should tell you something about what type of team Arizona will have this fall.
No. 5: Safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles
Height/weight/year: 6-2, 199, junior.
Comment: If you had to pick one UA defensive player who’s poised to earn all-Pac-12 honors, you’d pick Flannigan-Fowles.
The Tucson product emerged as one of the defense’s premier playmakers in 2016, and finished second on the team with 78 tackles and tied for first with two interceptions. He also ranked in the top four in tackles-for-loss (four) and pass breakups (six).
No Arizona defender enters 2017 with a more jam-packed résumé. As the “Bandit” in Marcel Yates’ scheme, Flannigan-Fowles is asked to do a lot, from defending the run to covering tight ends and receivers.
No. 4: Guard Jacob Alsadek
Height/weight/year: 6-7, 315, redshirt senior.
Comment: If this were a ranking of Arizona’s best leaders, Alsadek would sit atop the list.
The veteran offensive lineman stood tall during the program’s lowest, bleakest moments last year — and we’re not just saying that because he’s 6-7. When someone needed to represent the offensive line following Hemmila’s death, Alsadek stepped up. His composure was remarkable.
Alsadek remains the spokesman for the offensive line — and maybe the entire team. His enthusiasm and work ethic make him a role model for every Wildcat.
No. 3: Quarterback Brandon Dawkins
Height/weight/year: 6-3, 210, redshirt junior.
Comment: If he were the clear-cut starter, Dawkins would be No. 1, no questions asked.
What’s keeping Dawkins from the top spot is precisely what precludes him from owning the job outright: It remains to be seen whether he can make significant progress as a passer.
Dawkins trended in the opposite direction last season, his first as the most-of-the-time starter. In his first three games — against Grambling State, Hawaii and Washington — Dawkins completed 61.7 percent of his passes, had a 3-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and averaged 7.72 yards per pass attempt. In his final seven games, those numbers dropped to 47.5, 5-5 and 7.16.
Dawkins has worked to get bigger and stronger, the better to withstand the hits he’s bound to take as an ultra-aggressive runner. He averaged 94.4 rushing yards per game last season, the most by any quarterback in the Pac-12. Dawkins is a threat to score every time he takes off and runs. He’s also susceptible to injury because of his upright running style and disdain for sliding or going out of bounds.
No. 2: Receiver Shun Brown
Height/weight/year: 5-8, 175, junior.
Comment: There’s a ton of uncertainty around the Arizona program. There’s no disputing who the Wildcats’ No. 1 wide receiver is.
Brown is by far Arizona’s most-accomplished returning pass catcher. You could make the case he was the UA’s top target a year ago as a sophomore, even though he didn’t lead the team in receptions.
Brown finished second with 29, which is about three games’ worth for a Washington State wideout. But bear in mind that Arizona finished last in the Pac-12 with 157 completed passes. That number is likely to go up in 2017, and Brown should corral an even greater percentage.
No. 1: Running back J.J. Taylor
Height/weight/year: 5-6, 170, redshirt freshman.
Comment: Taylor has appeared in only four games. He has started only once. He is listed on the roster as a redshirt freshman, which in most cases means a player has yet to even make his college debut.
But in the minimal time he did play, Taylor flashed so much ability and promise that there simply was no other choice: The diminutive, dynamic tailback is the no-brainer pick for 2017 team MVP.
Taylor flashed through Tucson like a lightning storm last September. Replacing Wilson midway through the first quarter of Game 3 against Hawaii, Taylor rushed for 168 yards on just 18 attempts. He made moves that appeared to defy physics.
Taylor came back the following week against a considerably tougher opponent in Washington. The Huskies couldn’t stop him either, yielding 97 yards on 19 carries through three quarters.
Unfortunately, near the end of the third quarter, Taylor’s brief, brilliant star turn came to an end. He got rolled up on a play that probably should have been whistled dead and suffered a broken left ankle.
Taylor enters the 2017 season with genuine superstar potential, assuming he stays healthy. Although the injury he suffered against the Huskies could be categorized as fluky, it’s fair to question Taylor’s durability simply because he hasn’t made it through a full season.
But don’t make the mistake of diminishing his chances because of his size. As Mike Riley once said of former Oregon State tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, “He’s not small. He’s just short.” That’s Taylor, too.