Monday, August 27, 2012

Arizona tackles Maiava and Ebbele duke it out for starting spot

By KYLE JOHNSON Published August 27, 2012 at 1:52am Updated August 27, 2012 at 1:52am

Larry Hogan/Arizona Daily Wildcat Offensive lineman Lene Maiava, No. 77, competes for a right tackle starting position with teammate Fabbians Ebbele, ...

The theme of the offensive line entering 2011 was inexperience. This year, the narrative has switched, as at least four positions on the line will have starting experience, versus the combined one career start the team had last season. The fifth spot, at right tackle, was occupied by sophomore Fabbians Ebbele in the last coaching regime under Mike Stoops, but with Rich Rodriguez in tow, Ebbele is locked into a battle with redshirt freshman Lene Maiava for the chance to return as a starter.

“Right now, (the battle) has proven to be a good problem for our team to have,” offensive line coach Robert Anae said.

Ebbele started 11 games for the Wildcats last season, but an off-field incident resulted in his suspension from spring camp and then a nagging foot injury has limited him in fall practices. That left the door open at right tackle and redshirt freshman Lene Maiava has taken advantage.
They both have unique individual strengths, Anae said, but the coaching staff is still waiting for one to separate from the other.

As of now, the position battle has been on a day to day basis as the starting spot is still up in the air.

But unlike a lot of the other question marks still remaining on the depth chart, this one comes from both players being productive, not for a lack of talent.

“If both of them deserve to play, they’re both going to play,” senior center Kyle Quinn said. “They’re both great players. They both put in unique attributes to their position. So if we play both of them, then we can win with both of them.

“Whoever is out there, we’re going to keep the train rolling with this offense. It’ll be good either way.”

Both players bring big bodies to the right tackle spot, but the 6-foot 8-inch, 310 pound Ebbele brings just a little more size to the position than the 6-foot 5-inch, 275 pound Maiava.
“(Ebbele) is an animal,” Quinn said. “He’s a really big guy and he throws his weight around and just runs people over, so it’s great to have him back out there.”

But because of the suspension and the nagging injury, Maiava has had his chance to get some reps and has become a legitimate contender for the starting role.

And since Rodriguez is bringing in a different offensive system and philosophy, the added reps in spring and fall camp have been vital.

Maiava said the extra time has helped him build his confidence, even though he didn’t think he’d already be challenging for the spot as a redshirt freshman.

“(Ebbele) is good, he’s really good,” Maiava said. “He’s a big guy with a lot of experience and everything … It’s up to the person that brings the ‘A’ game every time. It’s pretty tough for me to compete against a really experienced O-lineman.”

However, Ebbele’s off-the-field issues are worth considering, especially his involvement in a campus-area brawl in March that ended in Ebbele being charged with assault and criminal trespassing.

All of the charges were eventually dropped, and Ebbele said the experience helped him improve his decision-making skills and ultimately allowed him to become more mature.

“He’s really matured and [is]starting to emerge as one of the younger leaders on the team and his presence … is felt every time he’s out there on the field with us,” Quinn said.

Ebbele’s dedication to the team is a sign of that maturity, as he said he never thought about transferring during the suspension.

“That’s one thing I wasn’t going to do,” Ebbele said. “I wasn’t going to quit. If it got bad and I knew I did something wrong [then maybe]. But I didn’t and I knew I was going stay here the whole time.”

And now that he seems to be fully healthy — Ebbele started during the “Beanie Bowl” scrimmage on Friday and participated with full contact — it looks like he’s returned to his form from last season.
“I’m back, I’m in rhythm,” Ebbele said. “I feel great and I’m making great strides and everything like that. And I feel real good.”

Ebbele said the challenge for his right tackle job helped motivate and drive him to improve. And even though Ebbele is back to full strength, and his start Friday during the scrimmage is a good indication he’ll be there come game day, Maiava still isn’t out of the picture yet.

“Lene is making good strides every day,” Ebbele said. “He’s maturing as a player and I see it.”

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