I remember looking at the Arizona Wildcats’ depth chart two years and doing a double take when getting to the nose tackle position. A redshirt freshman walk-on was on the two-deep, which was surprising in itself, but the walk-on was on the depth chart as a nose tackle at 6-foot-1 and 237 pounds. To put that in perspective, the average defensive tackle at the college level is 6-foot-2 and 292 pounds.
A lot has changed in two years for Parker Zellers. He’s now on scholarship and has played in every game the last two years.
"Low man wins, always whoever has the faster hands wins every time", he said when asked how he approaches going against bigger linemen. "Like against Freddie (Tagaloa), if I get my hands on him and I’m lower than him, there’s a 99% chance I’m gonna beat him or at least control the block."
Zellers earned the good graces of the previous defensive staff for being a hard worker, but he had to prove it once again to a new defensive staff...minus one familiar face.
"I’ve been with him since day one when he was my strength coach," Zellers said about new defensive line coach Vince Amey. "I actually told myself a year ago I hope one day Vince could be my coach and now he is. He’s a great guy. He’ll keep it real with you, he’s honest, and he really cares about the players and wants to see them get better."
Arizona defensive coordinator Marcel Yates and company are bringing in a new defense, one Zellers is excited to play in.
"Last year it was kinda just taking on two blockers and letting the linebackers free, but now we have a lot more freedom I’d say," the defensive lineman explained. "It’s more of an attack defense. It’s more get off the ball and try to cause havoc in the backfield rather than the old defense where you just sit back and take on blocks."
"The old defense taught me how to be gap sound, and very technical," continued Zellers. "They taught me how to play with low pads and good hands, but now they took off the handcuffs and told me to be free and I can make more plays and help the team make plays. Now we’re moving around and there’s a lot of creativity to it and we’re trying to cause a lot of chaos in the backfield."
Arizona could use more chaos in the backfield after a very underwhelming 19 sacks last year, which was good for 11th in the 12-team conference.
As far as leaders go on the defensive line, Zellers named Sani Fuimaono.
"Sani is a great leader," Zellers said of his teammate. "He’s a dad now, so he’s used to being in charge and letting people know what needs to be done and I try to be just as good of a leader as him. I sit back and let him do his thing because he’s a senior and he’s been here, but I’m on people just as much as him and try to get people to realize what it takes because I don’t think everyone realizes what it takes to win as a defensive line."
I also asked Zellers if he thinks the new defense will lead to more sacks and he responded "Absolutely. Not making any promises, but with the way we have been working we’re definitely gonna be in the backfield more and put more pressure on the quarterback and try to create chaos."
So what has Arizona had to improve on in the final days leading into the season-opener against BYU?
"Just the little things," explained Zellers. "Just the technical stuff, no missed assignments, everyone knows where to be, but that just takes a couple more practices and some polishing up, but I think right now we’re fixing to be a pretty good defense. I’m not making any promises, but personally I think we’ll be making some noise."
Zellers and the Wildcats will be making their season debut in University of Phoenix stadium, a stadium which left a sour taste in a lot of Wildcats’ mouths two years ago.