Scooby Wright is getting all the linebacker attention for Arizona from across the nation, as he should. All the attention will be on him, offensive coordinators will game plan around him and make sure their quarterback knows where he is at all times. Because of this, his supporting cast will be forced to make bigger plays. And this year, all of Scooby's supporting cast returns, ready to reap the benefits of his presence. Arizona might not have the depth ready to go week one, but the guys who are there will be a great supporting cast for Scooby Wright in the middle of the defense.
Key Returners: Scooby Wright III, Derrick Turituri, Cody Ippolito, Jake Matthews, DeAndre' Miller
Key Departures: None
Key Newcomers: Kendal Franklin, Matthew Stagg
We all know what Scooby Wright can do, and although he had stupid high numbers in 2014, it'll be hard to imagine that even he can top them, and that's okay. He's one of those guys who will have an effect on every single play regardless of where the ball is.
Derrick Turituri is a big dude, 6-1 265lbs. I expect him to step up in his junior year, probably second in sacks to Scooby, and somewhere close to 60-70 tackles on the season, up from his 44 last season. He's going to be the ultimate run stopper for Arizona and one of the leaders in the front six. This will be a big year for Turituri in his progression as Arizona's next featured linebacker once Scooby leaves.
Jake Matthews also put on some good weight this offseason, now at 6-3 221lbs, after performing surprisingly well as a walk-on last season. Now on scholarship, he should be one of the first rotational linebackers if he's not already starting. He's a guy who I feel like is truly underappreciated, or often overlooked because of Scooby Wright, both locally and nationally. I think that Matthews cracks the top 8 in tackles for Arizona this year, after finishing 13th last year with 29 tackles.
DeAndre' Miller was plagued with a shoulder injury all of last season, but Rich Rodriguez and the staff seem to have high hopes for him, once ranked as a top 40 linebacker in the country in 2013. If Miller can stay on the field, he'll be a great rotational player for Arizona this year, similar to that of Jake Matthews last year, and then some. Hopefully he can stay healthy and breakout. The scary thing is the depth after Miller.
I would really like to know what the coaching staff thinks about Sir Thomas Jackson. He recorded just one tackle in all of 2014, eight in 2013 and 58 during his redshirt freshman campaign back in 2012. Arizona has a great supporting cast, but lacks some depth, so it would be nice to see Sir Thomas back on the field from time to time, contingent on his conditioning, discipline and awareness.
Antonio Smothers Jr. is someone who I had high expectations for coming out of Scottsdale CC. He was ranked No. 2 among all JUCO linebackers. Now it seems as if he just has his role on special teams, but again, due to the depth, it would be nice to see him out there from time to time.
Jamardre Cobb and Marquis Ware are the big question marks everyone has been dying to see on the field. If they are healthy and in-shape, we might just see them step up and add some much needed depth. That's a big if. Marquis Ware is the more likely of the two to see the field, but it's hard to imagine seeing them on the field early this season. These are two guys that will have to continue to learn the defense and their roles within it to perform later in the season.
Kendal Franklin is one of my surprise picks for this year. I talked a bit about him as a breakout freshman, with him being one of the seven or eight true freshman to see the field this season. As long as he is in shape, can learn the defensive responsibilities and adjust to the speed of college, I expect him to take on a larger role for a true freshman linebacker.
Matt Stagg is the newest linebacker on the team, a former walk-on at Georgia and member of the scout team. Coaches will likely have a short leash on him considering his past, as he was charged with a DUI when he was 18 years old. He'll have to work his way up the depth chart here, so we'll see how his scout team experience over in the ever so powerful SEC translates to the Pac-12.