There are many questions facing the Arizona Wildcats heading into the 2016 season, but the biggest one has to be what the defense will look like under the new coaching staff.
Do these coaching changes make us more excited for the year? And which group will benefit the most? Let’s dive into it with our first roundtable of the 2016 season. Also, welcome a couple of our new writers, Brandon Combs and Ronnie Stoffle to the AZDS party.
Jason Bartel: Does the recruiting run the coaches are on this summer make you more excited for this season even though it has nothing to do with this year?
Gabe Encinas: While I could talk about recruiting for days, the summer splash of commitments doesn’t necessarily make me more excited for this season, but obviously it makes me excited for the program to continue forging this path. But the new coaches themselves make me extremely excited for this season. I want to see how Marcel Yates pieces together his defense and how effective the unit can be as a whole. This season will be big for Arizona, especially if they slip early and can’t make up any ground. They start Pac-12 play with probably one of the most brutal stretches in the nation and they’ll need to win to attract some of those bigger recruits that are projected to fill in the remainder of the class and even keep some of their current commits.
Brandon Combs: I'm always excited about Arizona football. This recruiting class does make me excited for the future of the program though. There is no doubt, however, that this new coaching staff has brought energy into the program. It already shows with multiple players saying that this season is going to be special and showing excitement themselves. I'm eager to see what Yates and his staff have up their sleeve. With all the positivity surrounding the Cats, I do believe this year will be a better one for Arizona football.
Ronnie Stoffle: This recruiting run definitely makes me excited for the season. I think the most exciting piece to see is how the defense responds to Yates. The new regime has already been impressionable enough to land some serious potential for the future. It’s probably safe to assume that energy will go a long way during the season. I expect the offense to be just as dangerous as last year despite the loss of a Cayleb Jones and Jared Baker. The defense is the wild card. If Yates can get the opponents off the field on third-down and create takeaways, like he did with Boise State, this team has a chance to be a dark horse in the South. Plenty of excitement to go around!
Alec Sills-Trausch: Most definitely and I would argue it DOES have something to do with this season. First, this class has momentum (I know there’s no stat behind it but whatever) and if you can couple the strong summer the coaches have put together with an above average season (say 8 or 9 wins), recruits who are not committed may take a second look at Rich Rod and the U of A program and say, ‘Hey, maybe I want to be apart of this transition.’ Second, as Gabe mentioned, if the coaching staff can show on the field what they have been preaching on the recruiting trail, that will go a long way to not only building trust with recruits but also being able to back it up on powerpoints when coaches do in-home/official/unofficial visits.
JB: Which position group do you think will benefit the most with the changes to the defensive staff?
GE: I have to go with Donte’ Williams and the corners. San Jose State was second in the nation in passing yards per game, only allowing 153 yards through the air. To be fair, the Mountain West has a lot of run-first teams including Air Force, Nevada and New Mexico, which automatically limits the passing yards per game. Still, it’s a high scoring league that did include a fair share of passing.
Corner is an extremely anemic position for Arizona with Cam Denson flipping to offense, plus Kwesi Mashack and Jarvis McCall moving to safety. You figure DaVonte’ Neal and Dane Cruikshank will assume the starting positions. Then you have Devin Holiday, Sammy Morrison and Jace Whittaker as the only guys with game experience. I like Antonio Parks, the freshman mid-year enrollee, but we’ll see how fast he’s picked up on the defense.
The defense needs a lot of help overall but I think it can start with Donte’ Williams and his corners available to him.
BC: I would say the cornerbacks. Donté Williams brings a lot of energy and passion to Arizona. He is able to relate to the players and has already earned their respect. The fact that he brings his cleats and gloves to practice doesn't hurt either. He is able to show the players exactly what he's looking for instead of just telling them. He produced at least four NFL-caliber DBs while at San Jose State, so just imagine what he can do at Arizona.
RS: I have to agree that the group to benefit the most will likely be the corners. Last year, this was an opportunity area due to injury and lack of depth. Williams will bring a shot of life to the group. My eye will be on Neal. It’ll be interesting to see the impact Williams has on DaVonte’ and reaching his full potential. This is his chance to be the leader of the secondary and he has all the talent to be the stud they need at the position. DaVonte’ will absolutely have the platform to showcase his progress against the top offenses in the Pac-12.
AST: Everyone seems to have already said cornerbacks and I doubt I can add much too it. However, for as good as they may be/how good they might improve, it won’t mean anything without a pass rush which gets to the quarterback quickly as we all know a receiver will nearly always win if they have time to make multiple moves with a scrambling QB.
Mike C. Paulus: it seems odd to say, but I believe the offensive line is the group that will benefit most from the new defensive staff and philosophy (whatever it will be). Imagine how excited the young men tasked with protecting Anu Solomon and Co. will be with a defense that can stop the long, quick strike by opposing offenses. More recovery time should equate to better protection.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments!