With a whole new defensive staff, the Arizona Wildcats are now looking to become more aggressive and cause more turnovers. The secondary was one of the weaker parts of the defense last year and the new staff is looking to change that.
Look for DaVonte’ Neal and Dane Cruikshank to hold down the corner spots, with Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Tellas Jones, and then a possible newcomer to fill the safety spots in the new look Wildcat defense.
Key Losses: Will Parks, Anthony Lopez, Jamar Allah
Key Returners: Dane Cruikshank, Anthony Mariscal, Jarvis McCall Jr., DaVonte’ Neal, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Tellas Jones, Jace Whittaker, Kwesi Mashack, Devon Brewer, Devin Holiday
Key Newcomers: Antonio Parks, Gavin Robertson, Lorenzo Burns, Chacho Ulloa, Jarrius Wallace, Tristan Cooper, and Isaiah Hayes
An improved secondary starts with the seniors. Jones, Neal and possibly Paul Magloire need to have big seasons for the secondary to improve. Magloire could play the spur position in the new defense since it is a safety/LB hybrid and should fit his strengths well.
It seems like it might be filled by Jones though. He showed how versatile he was last year, and was one of the better pass rushers at the end of the year. He’ll have some big shoes to fill with Will Parks gone though.
Flannigan-Fowles seems poised to take over the bandit position in 2016. He had two INT’s in the open practice at Fort Huachuca and Rich Rodriguez has taken notice of his improvement. Rodriguez had this to say about Demetrius "He has all the stuff that we’re looking for in a safety in our defense." The Tucson native is looking to have a big year.
Neal left a lot to be desired last year, but has now been in the secondary for two camps. He should be well-adjusted for a big senior year, and has been praised by the new defensive staff for the work he’s put in to get better in pass coverage.
The other corner spot will likely be a battle between Jace Whittaker and Dane Cruikshank. Whittaker has some experience under his belt, but Cruikshank has been getting a lot of positive buzz after a redshirt year out of Citrus College. He has great size for corner at 6-foot-1, but Whittaker is trying to make a battle of it.
Watch out for Kwesi Mashack as well. He may be small at 5-foot-8, but has enough muscle at 206 pounds to stay with the big boys at receiver. Devin Holiday will also be looking for some playing time in his senior season. He has been a solid depth and special teams guy for Arizona in his four years.
McCall Jr. hasn’t been 100% healthy in a long time. He battled a shoulder injury his freshman year and a hamstring issue his sophomore campaign. He made the move to safety this spring and is getting overlooked by some. With his 6-foot-2 frame and experience at cornerback, I feel that he could be a great fit at safety. He may not start, but he will be crucial for depth and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him on the field quite a bit.
Another person I feel that is getting overlooked is Anthony Mariscal. He’s a guy that has a similar build to Jared Tevis and is looking for some playing time following his redshirt year. Devon Brewer will be in his second year out of Milford Academy and could have redshirted last year, but the staff elected to play him instead. He could be in line for playing time at safety as well.
Arizona has a solid core in the secondary, but the depth overall is a little concerning. The Wildcats need newcomers like Lorenzo Burns, Isaiah Hayes, Chacho Ulloa, and Gavin Robertson to be ready. Burns is a great athlete who was a do-it-all guy for his high school and is athletic enough to play at corner this year. Hayes and Ulloa were highly-ranked recruits and have made a good impression since they’ve been on campus. Gavin Robertson passes the eye test at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, and is a physical player.
The secondary has some work to do before it can be considered a strong point of the defense. It has some pieces in place, but needs some of the younger guys to step up. It will have some growing pains, but should improve as the year goes on.