Arizona's secondary has been a hallmark for much of the last decade. Antoine Cason etched his name in his Wildcat lore in the early Stoops years, with Wilrey Fontenot manning the other side and Darrell Brooks backing them up at safety. Trevin Wade and Robert Golden followed and continued the tradition of standouts in the secondary. But like much of the 2012 season, the Arizona secondary faces the unknown.
Then again, the unknown might not be such a bad thing. In fact, the new scheme is built around it.
A theme that both head coach Rich Rodriguez and linebacker Jake Fischer reiterated at last month's Pac-12 Media Day was that new defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's signature 3-3-5 stack defensive formation would allow for more varied looks. UA is not the most physically imposing defense in the Pacific 12 Conference -- far from it. Thus, the Wildcats will be heavily reliant on the confusion a defense without a fourth down lineman is meant to cause.
West Virginia excelled running the 3-3-5 for most of Casteel's time in Morgantown, regularly finishing in the top 30 of passing defenses because of secondary play. Conversely, there was only one pass defense worse in all Bowl Subdivision football last season than Arizona's. There is nowhere to go but up, which makes now the perfect time to reconstruct how UA approaches defense.
Inserting a scheme that is complete deviation from what failed last season is about as much rebuilding as one can envision, but the changes should accentuate the skills of a young and talented unit.
The 3-3-5 stack is predicated on play making, particularly from the secondary.Shaquille Richardson was as much a play maker as UA had on its defense a season ago, intercepting four passes. Richardson was a play maker, but also a risk taker. When he wasn't intercepting passes, he often gave up big plays. As the star of the unit, Richardson sets the tone.
Opposite Richardson at the other corner position is Derrick Rainey, who saw limited action last season. Rainey beat out Jonathan McKnight, a contributor in 2010 who missed all of 2011 because of injury.
Roving positions are defining characteristics of the scheme, one of which is the Spur. The position was seemingly made for Tra'Mayne Bondurant, a physical tackler a bit too undersized to play linebacker in the Pac-12, but not the typical defensive back.
His play as a linebacker will be useful in his new role. Expect to see Bondurant make some rattling hits in the open field, with the objective to create turnovers. The other rover position, the Bandit, is a quicker, more traditional defensive back position. Jared Tevis will start in the Bandit Week 1 against a Toledo team that was among the nation's best via the pass. Tevis played in all 12 games last season, typically as a nickleback. This new role won't be too drastic a deviation.
Jourdon Grandon gained responsibility as 2011 progressed, which carries over into the new season. He's a Week 1 starter at free safety.
Freshmen Jamar Allah and Wayne Capers Jr. are both second stringers on the Wildcat depth chart, and should see action immediately in multiple DB sets. Former scout team player Justin Samuels also cracked the initial depth chart.