Last season will, for a while, live in infamy for most Arizona Wildcats fans. It mostly has to do with the woeful injury luck, and no position group was hit harder than the linebackers. In 2014, the three starters who saw most of the action were Scooby Wright, Derrick Turituri and Cody Ippolito. In my opinion, the most encouraging part of their collective performance was that they were all returning for an encore in 2015.
Unfortunately, we all know how that played out. However, the silver lining was those injuries forced a couple of inexperienced backups (DeAndre’ Miller and Jake Matthews) into substantial playing time and a position change (Paul Magloire) that now has the whole nation watching.
Key Losses: Scooby Wright, Derrick Turituri
Key Returners: Paul Magloire, DeAndre’ Miller, Cody Ippolito, Jake Matthews
Key Additions: Michael Barton, Kahi Neves, Jacob Colacion, Jalen Cochran
The losses of Scooby and Turituri should have marginal impacts after their absence from most of 2015. Don’t misunderstand me, though. I would love it if they were back for this season, but there is plenty of talent within the group to get the job done.
Magloire and Miller are poised for big performances this season. DeAndre’ seems especially poised to breakout under the new defensive staff and scheme.
"It’s been fun to learn our new scheme and be coached by our new staff." Miller said about the key to a successful transition to the new scheme. "We need to buy in, be savages and have a hard edge."
DeAndre’ also emphasized his offseason focus on improving his pass rushing skills. This summer, he took advantage of his free time by studying film of NFL pass rushers and constantly working on his technique at the UA facilities. This is an essential skill set that will be heavily utilized in Yates’ scheme, as he will likely fill the role of the hybrid defensive end/linebacker position A.K.A. the "Stud."
On the injury front, Ippolito has fully recovered from his ACL injury and Matthews is also back from a Lisfranc injury to his left foot. This is tremendous news as these two will play important roles not only from a production standpoint, but also as senior leaders.
As for the newcomers, Michael Barton is a graduate transfer from Cal who has plenty of experience at this level and in the Pac-12. He was able to immediately add value during Fall Camp.
"Being older and wiser has helped me helped these younger guys," he acknowledged. "If they were having trouble with the playbook, I was able to help them get through it."
Barton chose UA for his final year because it was a "perfect fit for a fresh start" and he has a good relationship with Marcel Yates. Also, Freddie Tagaloa (former Cal roommate) and Kylan Butler (former high school teammate and current UA graduate assistant) were strong influences on the decision.
The other newcomers (Kahi Neves, Jacob Colacion and Jalen Cochran) are three freshmen who are surrounded by high hopes from the coaching staff.
Neves had originally committed to Utah as a quarterback, which was the position he played during his senior season in high school. During his junior season, he wound up being a key player on the other side of the ball as a linebacker. Despite being a standout at the quarterback position, he told me, "I always had defense in the back of my mind."
As a Wildcat, he is on the defensive side of the ball. Former defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel was a major reason Neves committed to UA. After Casteel’s departure, Neves still felt comfortable with his decision because he trusts Rich Rodriguez and the new defensive staff. His goal is to play defense at the next level and after seeing the success Scooby had, he’s confident this program can get him there.
Colacion suffered an ACL injury last season. He may not see much action this year for a couple reasons, the first being the coaching staff wants to make sure he has fully recovered. He has plenty of potential to be a star at the collegiate level and it would be a shame if he were sidelined with another injury. Secondly, the Cats have decent depth at the position right now.
Cochran signed with UA despite an offer from Michigan State in the 11th hour. This was an eye-opening moment for many Wildcat fans as he chose Arizona over MSU, a top national program in his home state. He was a top priority of the new defensive regime and clearly bought into their vision. It will be interesting to see what his role will be this season.
Healthy redshirt candidates can be difficult to predict and typically seem to be pure speculation. At this point, there is really no telling how many of these freshmen, if any, will redshirt. It appears Magloire, Miller and Ippolito will likely be the starters of the unit. However, expect Matthews, Barton and Neves to see a considerable amount of playing time as well.