Heading into the 2016 season, it’s probably safe to say that most fans are concerned about the Arizona Wildcats defense in general.
But which position group are you most concerned about in 2016? We turn to our team of writers, and it’s a pretty unanimous pick.
Gabe Encinas: It has to be the defensive line. Having a front of Sani Fuimaono, Parker Zellers and Luca Bruno full-time is a little frightening. While I had zero expectations of Anthony Fotu having an impact once he came back from his six game suspension, the depth there takes a huge hit with his departure.
You get to Jack Banda and probably Justin Belknap, that’s about it for the depth. We’ll see what kind of shape Josh Allen is in when he finally reports to campus, with the opportunity to see the field immediately this season. Now it’s time to see what guys like Calvin Allen, Marcus Griffin, and Finton Connolly can do. Maybe we even see Darrell Cloy Jr. out there making an impact early this season. There are a lot of mysteries with this defense but I’m confident that Marcel Yates will scheme accordingly.
Drake Horner: The defensive line. An already thin DL corps lost Fotu, who while he wouldn’t be able to help until week six it still hurts. You have Fuimaono who slimmed down a bit from his nose tackle playing weight. You've got Bruno who bulked up to 305 pounds, which is hopefully good weight and I see him moving to tackle. Zellers is pretty consistent, but who do you trust past that?
You’ve got Griffin who was highly ranked out of high school. It will be his third year in the system so no more being young excuses. Allen has always had the frame to be a very effective defensive end, but hasn’t done much on the field. Banda has shown flashes, but has never been consistent. Connolly is coming off a redshirt year. Cloy made the move over to DE and has put on weight, but he has only one camp at DE. Then you’ve got JJ Allen who hasn’t even made it to campus yet, so who knows if he is in playing shape. This is where losing Timmy Hamilton and Fotu hurts. Those guys were supposed to add depth for this year. Now Arizona will have to get creative rushing the quarterback once again as there are no true pass rushers unless somebody emerges.
Steve Apter: Arizona is looking thin on the defensive line and really across the board on the defensive side of the ball. While defensive depth is definitely a concern in 2016, I’m more concerned with the quarterback group. While Anu Solomon’s ineffective play can be likely chalked up to his concussion, the bottom line is after his first three games against sub par defenses, Solomon took a step backwards last season. While Brandon Dawkins put up nearly 400 total yards against ASU last season, he threw two pick-sixes with the game on the line, and chunked up 95 yards on one pass and 40 yards on one run against an ASU defense that struggled with big plays last season.
Quarterback is arguably the most important position for the Wildcats and right now I think the Wildcats would prefer one option they could count on, versus two options with question marks. Khalil Tate probably would be best to take a year to learn and even if he sees the field this year I'd be concerned with throwing him into the fire too early. Nate Phillips, Samajie Grant, and Trey Griffey are all really solid options at wideout, but unlike Austin Hill or Cayleb Jones, aren't the type to create a lot of separation or win a lot of jump balls. The Wildcats receiving corps is going to need someone to distribute the ball accurately this season to be productive. If Arizona finishes below .500, inconsistent quarterback play will certainly be one of the reasons why.
Brandon Combs: The defensive line for sure. Fuimaono and Zellers will definitely see the most time. Cloy, Bruno, Belknap, Griffin, and Aiulua Fanene will also get a ton of playing time. Connolly, Banda, and Allen should see the field as well. However, it is no secret that the depth along the d-line is worrisome. An injury or two would be devastating. Other problematic events are that Arizona only took two defensive linemen during the 2016 recruiting cycle and the departure of Fotu. The staff is going to have to get creative in order to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks — something I believe Marcel Yates and Vince Amey can do.
David Potts: The defensive line! Shocking answer, I know. It’s worth pointing out that one of the big reasons Arizona ran the 3-3-5 was that it expected to have trouble recruiting defensive line talent. The new staff has changed that, sure, but those recruiting dividends won’t pay off for a couple years. In the meantime, an Arizona defense that would have trouble fielding a DL for the 3-3-5 is expected to run a 4-2-5. It’s not great.
Ronnie Stoffle: I'm anxious about the defense as a whole but particularly at cornerback. Assistant coach Donte’ Williams is an exciting and much-needed addition for the group. The Pac-12 has plenty of teams that love to air it out. If the defense wants to improve, cornerback play is an important piece. I expect a blitz-heavy scheme under the new regime which means more pressure on the secondary.
DaVonte' Neal will occupy one side but the other side is up for grabs. It would have been safe to assume that Jarvis McCall or Cam Denson would fill it but they have changed positions. There are a few players (Devin Holiday, Jace Whittaker, Kwesi Mashack and Sammy Morrison) who saw a fair share of snaps at the position last season. There is also freshman Antonio Parks that will compete for the position. There is talent to utilize opposite of DaVonte' and it's up to Coach Williams to make it work. I'm curious to see how it goes.
So who do you agree with? Do you go with the majority of us and say defensive line? Or is it quarterback, or corner, or somewhere else?