As the Arizona Wildcats look for solutions to their potential defensive line issue heading into 2016, there’s one guy that has stood out above the rest as far as earning playing time.
That has been redshirt freshman Justin Belknap.
Back in the spring, it seemed like Belknap’s name came up more often as the practices continued, and as we’ve reached the fall, his name comes up every single day.
"He’s running with the ones right now," defensive line coach Vince Amey said on Monday when naming Belknap as his biggest surprise of the fall. "He works his butt off. High motor guy. He hasn’t let me down, high motor and I can’t ignore that."
If you watch NFL Draft coverage and read analysis, you tend to see high motor used when analysts are talking about white players. Belknap is white, so seeing high motor used isn’t particularly surprising, but what else does he bring to the defensive line?
"More than just a high motor, he’s got a heart," senior defensive lineman Sani Fuimaono said of his teammate. "He’s undersized, but we’re all undersized on D-line compared to other defensive lines around the country, but with Belknap, he plays with a chip on his shoulder every down and he gives it his all. Even if he messes up he’s going 100 miles per hour, and that’s what I love about Belky."
"He’s smart," Amey added. "He has a great football IQ, so that helps out tremendously. He’s a little undersized right now and needs some more work in the weight room, but as far as his technique, level, and pad leverage goes, he has it."
"I’m always in my playbook," Belknap explained of how he’s earned the reputation of a smart football player. "I like to always know where I have to be and where other people have to be just so I know if something goes south on the field I know what I can do to help make it up."
This is also not a scholarship athlete we’re talking about potentially starting on Arizona’s defensive line as a redshirt freshman. Belknap is a walk-on, and was inspired by Rich Rodriguez to do so at Arizona.
"Coach Rodriguez was a walk-on himself, so that was big for me for coming here, because I knew they knew how to treat walk-ons better than most schools," Belknap said of why he came to Arizona. "And the whole recruiting process of coach (Bill) Kirelawich when he was here and Coach Amey. They were just two coaches that were very supportive of me and my game."
Belknap and Amey had a relationship before the former NFL player was named the defensive line coach back in the spring, which has really helped both of them over the last five or so months.
"It’s helped out tremendously because they know me already," Amey explained of how his relationship with the guys beforehand has helped ease his transition. "They know what I’m going to bring to the table. I have high expectations of ‘em, so that’s helped out tremendously. Me being in the weight room, I have a great relationship with the guys."
"It’s great," Belknap said of now having Amey coach his position group. "I love that he’s just there and is always supportive of us. He’s a good coach. He knows what he’s talking about and he’s a great guy to play for."
When looking at the grand scheme of things, having a walk-on in the mix for a starting job on the Wildcats’ defensive line seems indicative of the larger issue of a lack of depth at that particular position. But if Belknap is able to live up to the praise he’s received throughout camp, maybe he’ll be able to make an impact up front and put pressure on the opposing quarterback in different ways with the new scheme.