LOS ANGELES - Experience and depth on defense proved challenging for Arizona during its 4-8 2011 campaign. A lot is changing in Wildcat football under Rich Rodriguez, but a common theme in 2012 is UA again facing defensive depth issues.
Most notable was Akron transfer Brian Wagner leaving the program last month, creating a void at the vital middle linebacker position in new coordinator Jeff Casteel’s 3-3-5 stack formation.
"He’s hard to replace. He’s a smart player," said linebacker Jake Fischer during Tuesday’s Pacific 12 Conference Media Day. "[Wagner’s on-field intelligence allowed him to] play middle linebacker, capable of checking, seeing where to go on blitzes."
The new system is one Fischer touted for its activeness, and having a proven talent like Wagner at its center is vital. Wagner exhibited his ability as the nation’s second leading tackler a season ago.
UA is indeed young, and certainly inexperienced. The linebackers corps loses Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls, the two leading tacklers a season ago. Hank Hobson saw field time in 12 games, but his impact was nominal.
That leaves Fischer, nearly two years removed from his last game action, as the veteran presence. In 2010, he made 58 tackles and 7.5 for loss playing some in the secondary. His versatility could prove a spark plug in system Fischer celebrated for its varied blitz packages.
What those packages will look like is as much a mystery as which players, aside from Fischer, will make an impact with them.
But in the young Wildcats, he said "like[s] what we have.
"Freshmen had to step up last year. The young guys are hungry and ready to play," he said.
C.J. Dozier is arguably the most celebrated signee of Rodriguez's first recruiting class. The Temecula, Calif. product enrolled early, joining the team in spring practices.