If there is one defensive group for the Arizona Wildcats that is going through a major overhaul, it’s the linebacker corps. The group has lost its top tacklers and added a new coach.
Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates coached the linebackers last year before moving over to cornerbacks for the 2017 season. His replacement, former Nevada defensive coordinator Scott Boone, has made a positive impression on the group so far.
Key Losses: Paul Magloire Jr., Michael Barton, Cody Ippolito, John Kenny
Key Returners: Brandon Rutt, Jacob Colacion, Carrington Vaughn, DeAndre’ Miller, Richard Merritt
Key Additions: Gavin Robertson, Joshua Brown, Colin Schooler, Anthony Pandy, Tony Fields II, Jose Ramirez, Jalen Harris
Another massive change has been the loss of three of the top five tacklers from a season ago. Paul Magloire Jr. is with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and finished first on the team with 81 tackles. Michael Barton, who played only one season after transferring as a grad student from Cal, finished third on the team with 65 tackles. John Kenny, who transferred after the season, finished fifth with 39 tackles.
There are some returners with good experience but for the most part the group is untested and unexperienced
We’ll start with the ‘stud’ linebacker position and a player who has some solid experience, DeAndre Miller. Miller has the size and aggressiveness of a Pac-12 linebacker, and the talent. His main issue is staying healthy. He gets in the backfield with ease and is a disruptive force. His 2016 campaign was fraught with nagging injuries, so he was unable to really make a statement. His health is his main priority and making a final bang during his last season.
Next up at stud is Jose Ramirez. Watching his film you can see the speed he plays with, and he was a tackling machine in high school. Ramirez is a lot bigger than once thought, sitting at 6-foot-3 and around 210 pounds. He enrolled early so he participated in spring practice and opened some eyes. He should see some time this year.
Finally at stud, there’s Jalen Harris. One of the top pass rushers in Arizona (the other being UA freshman My-King Johnson), the legacy freshman can play either stud or defensive end. He is explosive off the snap and always seems to be in the backfield. It is possible he will play or redshirt, but that will depend on weight that he puts on and grasp of the defense during fall camp.
Moving over to ‘Will’ linebacker and we find Gavin Robertson. The former safety made the move to linebacker during the spring and made some good progress. Robertson grew from 6-foot-1, 210 pounds last year to 6-foot-3, 225 pounds this season. It was a natural move for someone his size. Robertson is a hard hitter and someone to keep at eye on this season.
Tony Fields II is another freshman who enrolled early for spring practice. He is one player who was consistently brought up by his teammates throughout spring as someone who stood out. Fields is aggressive but an instinctual player, who could make plays on a regular basis.
Jacob Colacion is next at Will linebacker. He has made a ton of noise this spring and has put himself in a great position to see the field this year. He redshirted last year after a pretty bad knee injury during his senior season in high school. But he is now 100 percent and starting to assert himself. The ‘Mike’ position could fit Colacion, too.
One of the best and most underrated additions is Colin Schooler. He was severely under recruited and built a really strong relationship with Boone. He is a naturally gifted linebacker and someone who can definitely see the field as soon as this year if he has a good spring. Schooler can play either Will or Mike.
Moving on to full to the last linebacker position, the ‘Mike’ linebacker. Brandon Rutt is the most experienced and most likely starter on the depth chart. Rutt came in near the end of last season and actually performed quite well. He forced three turnovers, which means something since the defense was having problems creating takeaways.
Two linebackers sit behind Rutt on depth chart. We’ll start with Joshua Brown. The former Long Beach Poly standout was a solid pickup for UA in the last recruiting cycle and was someone who was severely under recruited for unknown reasons. He has slimmed down to a healthy weight and came to Tucson in great shape.
The next player I see interchanging with Brown is Anthony Pandy. Pandy is nasty and aggressive, traits that coaches love to see in their linebackers.
The last player who should see time at Mike is Carrington Vaughn. Last year, Vaughn recorded the first sack for the ‘Cats against BYU. He has steadily been making progress but his climb up the depth chart has been slow.
As a whole, Arizona’s linebacker corps is young and inexperienced, but there is talent and a new position coach, so there are some things to look forward to and we may see improved play compared to a season ago.