The Arizona Wildcats defense needed an overhaul, there’s no doubt about it.
After a season where the team gave up 35.8 points per game, 5.94 yards per play, and 467 yards a game, it was apparent the coaching philosophy of former defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel was not meshing with the players he had in uniform.
I will admit that the team was decimated by injuries last season. However, it’s the trend that was worrisome.
Just two years earlier, in 2013, U of A only gave up 24 points per game and 4.11 yards a play.
While neither are considered title worthy, it was good enough for an 8-5 record and a victory over the No. 9 Oregon Ducks that nearly all of us remember quite well. So in the span of two years, the Wildcats gave up an average of ten points more per game while only increasing the offense’s production by four points per game. In other words, the team went from a plus-nine advantage to a plus-1.9.
In hopes of closing the defensive floodgates, Rich Rodriguez hired Marcel Yates as the defensive coordinator and Donte' Williams as the cornerbacks coach. Yates was formerly at Boise State where they were one the best teams at forcing turnovers thanks to their attacking style of play. Williams, who had been at San Jose State for the past three seasons, is a seasoned recruiter and secondary coach.
If you’ve been following Gabe’s recruiting reports over the last few months, you know how influential these two additions to the staff have been. However, those impacts won’t be felt until the 2017 season.
What will be felt this season, and is already being felt, are the coaching philosophies of these two men.
At Pac-12 Media Days, Rodriguez was asked about the change on defense and how he thought the team/new staff would look like.
Oh, yeah, I know what we're going to do on defense. In fact, when I hired a coordinator, which was a little bit unique, I wasn't looking so much for a scheme, because I think schemes are overrated, as much as I was looking for a personality and attitude. And I kind of set the parameters, this is what I want him to do. But I'm not going to coach it or teach it, I'm going to let my defensive staff do that. But I hired Marcel Yates who scheme-wise was really good, but more than anything I liked his personality, I liked the personality of the defense, and I know what we're going to do, I'm just not -- why tell anybody until we have to. I mean, it's not like it's a big secret, but for the first couple teams, they'll have to figure that out.
The head coach was then asked about the positives he’s seen since spring:
The most encouraging thing I saw from our defense was, again, just the renewed enthusiasm, and there's a lot of young guys out there. It sounds like coach speak, but hell, I don't really know how good we're going to be, I just know we weren't really good last year, and we need to get better.
The first person has got to take responsibility, that's me. As the head coach, I'm responsible for all phases of the team, and so I looked at myself and said, geez, I've got to do a better job of making sure we're getting better defensively. There's going to be some growing pains, but the future of our defense is going to be really good.
While the future is most definitely bright with what is destined to be a top-25 recruiting class littered with defensive help, those reinforcements sadly won’t be here time to aid the team this fall.
In the end, Rodriguez may not know how good the team will be until we’re halfway through the season. What we do know is there’s a renewed sense of pride and energy inside the Arizona football locker room and the brightest days are yet to come.
All quotes were transcribed by ASAP Sports.
You can follow Alec on Twitter @UofAlec where he gives his thoughts on Arizona Athletics.