This Arizona Wildcats' spring was very vanilla in terms of schemes and packages, with the emphasis more on fundamentals and this new defensive staff learning about the guys they have at their disposal.
Marcel Yates ran a 4-2-5 defense at Boise State and Rich Rodriguez has said that they are blowing up the defensive model they’ve had in the past, straying away from the 3-3-5.
While spring practice was closed to the media for all but two sessions, we were able to get a quick look at what the defense might look like, in some fashion. Based on what we saw, the defense will still have flashes of a 3-3-5, with a fourth defensive lineman lining up on the edge, serving as a hybrid linebacker/defensive end. In that spot, we saw DeAndre’ Miller and Kahi Neves, as well as some Kendal Franklin.
A lot of you have asked about how the defense looks and what to expect, so here it goes.
Luca Bruno, Parker Zellers, and Sani Fuimaono will be up front on the defensive line, with Jack Banda coming into the rotation. Justin Belknap is another name to watch for, who’s worked his tail off to climb up the depth charts.
Arizona doesn’t have a whole lot of size and Rich Rodriguez mentioned he liked Darrell Cloy and what he brings with his size. You figure that Marcus Griffin ought to be in the mix at this point as well, as well as Calvin Allen. Those are two guys that definitely benefited from the new defensive coaching changes.
We’ll also get Josh JJ Allen this summer, and while I don’t think he would come in as the shoe-in starter, he’ll find his way into the rotation and then work his way up into a starting role, worst-case scenario.
On the defensive line, a lot of people forget about Anthony Fotu, who will be suspended through week six of the regular season. That will be a big help once he finds his way back on to the field.
DeAndre’ Miller is a guy who many people are excited about this season. He’s just a large individual with power and speed. The new position seems as if it’s designed to have DeAndre’ always be in position to make a play, where I think Miller will come up big much like a Tra’Mayne Bondurant.
Cody Ippolito and Paul Magloire will be the other two starters. Magloire is another guy who will likely have a breakout year. After recording only five tackles as a reserve through week five, he finished second on the team in tackles after he made the switch to linebacker.
Michael Barton, Jake Matthews, and Carrington Vaughn are also likely candidates to contribute, and we might even see Jamardre Cobb in the fold as well. Derrick Turituri could miss the entirety of the 2016 season due to injury.
Kahi Neves was an early enrollee who will have a huge advantage coming into the fall, with a spring and summer already under his belt. We’re still extremely far away from redshirt decisions, but it’s hard to imagine Neves getting a redshirt.
Kendal Franklin is a guy who should also thrive in the new system, being able to play more of the defensive end role, much like he did in high school at Warren Easton. When you think about the future of the Arizona defense, it sounds good on paper with young guys like Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Anthony Mariscal and Kendal Franklin.
The secondary for now looks like DaVonte’ Neal and Dane Cruikshank at cornerback. Up top, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles will occupy the spur position, Anthony Mariscal at free and then Tellas Jones as the bandit, assuming he resumes practice or is not handed a suspension to start the season.
Arizona will be relying on some of their incoming freshmen this year at safety, with Chacho Ulloa likely finding himself in the mix early. I really like Tristan Cooper out of this class as well. There's also Gavin Robertson, who has a huge amount of upside, as well as Jarrius Wallace.
Jace Whittaker and Devin Holiday will be backups at corner. Sammy Morrison was on crutches for the tail end of spring practice. Cornerback has little to no depth, which will mean new guys like Isaiah Hayes, Lorenzo Burns and Antonio Parks might have to step up as well.
Kwesi Mashack and Jarvis McCall made the switch over to safety, joining Devon Brewer, making the cornerback situation a scary one if there are injuries.
This is not going to be a top half defense in the Pac-12. This will definitely be a building season, finding the right pieces and continuing to bring in stronger recruits to fit the scheme. Arizona had a tough break with injuries last season, making it hard to believe that the defense won't be better this season.
Still, it's a work in progress that will have a tough test in week one, and will continue to be tested all season long going through one of the most difficult schedules in the Pac-12.