Arizona football depth chart: The defensive line could grow on you, literally

USA TODAY Sports

The defensive line has experience and size, but it will finally have a chance to solidify into one of the Arizona Wildcats' surprise units.

Ideally, the Arizona Wildcats would love for the quarterback situation to somehow end as a wild success story, but if we're being even half-honest, that's unlikely. More realistically, one unit on the UA football team that could jump into the fray as the biggest gravel-moving presence is the defensive line.

Key losses

Dominique Austin, Willie Mobley, Lamar De Rego

Key returners

Sione Tuihalamaka, Reggie Gilbert, Tevin Hood, Kirifi Taula, Dan Pettinato, Justin Washington

Key newcomers

Kyle Kelley (redshirt freshman), Luca Bruno

Maybe the big three up front have more to gain than any other unit from last year. It wasn't so much that they were bad but that the Wildcats were small, and thin, across the defense. This year, there is considerably more depth and not too many losses.

There's evidence for that depth. Junior Dan Pettinato, who last season led all defensive linemen with 34 total tackles, isn't listed on the three-deep as he recovers from a knee injury (Sione Tuihalamaka was second on the line with 29 total tackles). While tackles aren't necessarily a great measure of success for D-linemen especially, it does show that a player who saw significant playing time faces a tough time seeing the field off the bat.

More telling of the improvement in the depth department is the third-string listing of senior Justin Washington, who three years ago was a potential Freshman All-American.

Tevin Hood, a former Hamilton High School and Duke product whose journey to Arizona was chronicled by the Daily Wildcat last year, made it onto the field in the first year of Rich Rodriguez and looks to have made himself a starting role in 2013. Reggie Gilbert, another local product from Laveen, Ariz., has done the same -- he's a backup nose tackle and starting end. Gilbert was fourth on the team with six tackles for loss last year and was second -- behind linebacker Marquis Flowers -- with 3.5 sacks.

Six-foot-4, 280 pound freshman Luca Bruno is listed as one of the backups at nose tackle, where Tuihalamaka used to spend some of his time. And redshirt freshman Kyle Kelley, a four-star recruit two seasons ago, is challenging for a decent role, as is junior Kirifi Taula.

What should be expected of the line? Last year, the entire Arizona team recorded 16 sacks. Quarterbacks had too much time -- see the performance of Marqise Lee against the Wildcats -- and running backs could pound it on the ground successfully.

The statistics, tackle totals and yard totals won't be the entire story. Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 defense gives a lot of the playmaking duties to the spur, bandit and linebacker positions, and Rich Rodriguez's offensive tempo doesn't help the opponent yards per game look satisfying by the end of a game. But the line has the room for growth that could make the entire defense improve as the linebackers and secondary players shore up their own troubles.

After all, there's only so much a cornerback can do when the quarterback has too much time in the pocket.

And if the defensive line can find a way to disrupt the variety of run games in the Pac-12, maybe the defense that did its job in making plays in close games in 2012 will make more through the whole game, and without bringing the house.

That's what depth will do.

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