Wildcats TE Gronkowski out for opener with strep, possibly mono

Updated: August 25, 2008, 9:15 PM ET
Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona coach Mike Stoops is anxious to get off to a good start this season, but he must do so without standout tight end Rob Gronkowski.

The Wildcats tweaked their spread offense around the sophomore throughout fall camp, but he will miss the season opener against Idaho on Saturday, and possibly more.

Gronkowski, a Mackey Award watch-list prospect, will be out with strep throat, and possibly mononucleosis. Additional medical tests are scheduled.

"Robbie is pretty much ruled out for this week's game," Stoops said on Monday. "We don't think he will be part of our game plan. It will be a week-to-week kind of situation to see how his condition progresses."

Gronkowski, who caught 28 passes for 525 yards and six touchdowns a year ago, has not practiced since Friday.

Sophomore A.J. Simmons will take over the starting role. He had one catch for three yards last year. Gronkowski's absence is big considering Arizona's coaches have talked about him catching anywhere between 50 to 100 catches this season.

"We are pretty confident it is not going to be a significant amount of time," Stoops said. "By significant I mean three or four weeks. We are optimistic it will be sooner than that."

Arizona will rely more on a four-receiver set with Gronkowski out. That suits the offensive style well as the Wildcats have plenty of receivers returning for the 2008 season, including Mike Thomas, who led the Pac-10 in receptions a year ago with 83.

The offense is something Stoops plans to rely on heavily to bring an end to a nine-year bowl drought and to take some of the pressure off him as he enters his fifth season after going 5-7 in 2007.

Arizona improved from 16 points to 28 a year ago after implementing a spread attack. Gronkowski was going to be a big part of taking the next step.

Quarterback Willie Tuitama will have look elsewhere as the offense tried to take the pressure off a young defense, with only three starters returning.

"We may change our sets and what we feature may change," Stoops said. "Whatever our best 11 are for every given situation, we have a lot of flexibility."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press