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Analyzing Arizona’s 2017 depth chart

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Let’s take a deeper look at UA’s depth chart

USC v Arizona Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats are preparing for NAU this week and we finally got our first look at the depth chart on Monday.

It’s interesting, but it’s also something that will be constantly changing given the fact that Rich Rodriguez rotates 20-plus guys on each side of the ball.

Everyone on the two-deep will play, and it’s not a formula you have to stick to, but it does give you a measuring stick for individual progress.

The full depth chart can be found here, and here’s a breakdown of each position group:


Quarterbacks

There are now four quarterbacks getting the bulk of the snaps, with Brandon Dawkins and Khalil Tate as the top two options and Rhett Rodriguez and Donavan Tate battling for the No. 3 spot.

In my eyes, there is no way Dawkins is not the starter, and has not been the starter for the past few weeks. Rodriguez just likes to create a sense of urgency and competition to light a fire under some guys.

However, I also imagine that Khalil Tate can come in to provide a spark should Dawkins stall, much like when we saw Jerrard Randall take over for Anu Solomon at times a couple years back. Khalil Tate has improved this offseason, but from the sounds of quarterback coach Rod Smith, I’m not sure it’s enough to give him full control of the offense.

As for QB3, after listening to All Sports Tucson’s Brad Allis on his podcast, he has me leaning towards Rhett Rodriguez. Before practice began, I would have taken K’Hari Lane, only to find out that he’s entering the program at 245 pounds.

I just don’t see Donavan Tate coming through after being away from football for almost a decade. Hopefully it doesn’t come to a third QB, but there’s really no point in trying to save Rhett Rodriguez’s redshirt either should it come to that.


Running backs

Nick Wilson and J.J. Taylor will hopefully split carries to a point where neither takes an excessive amount of punishment.

I’m interested to see if Wilson can last more than six games, and if his offseason training really makes the big difference and gets him back to his 2014 self.

Wilson and Taylor are an extremely potent combo that the Washington Huskies were even struggling with last season. If those two can just stay healthy, a lot of offensive woes solve themselves given a more solidified line.

Zach Green is listed as the third back, which I don’t mind as a niche power back. If you can keep the 5-foot-10, 229 pound back with fresh air and legs, it’s a nice complement.

Nathan Tilford, a four-star recruit, was not listed on the depth chart, though he is expected to have a role. Maybe it takes some time to ease him into the offense, maybe the staff is saving him for Houston or Pac-12 play, but he is too good and physical to not play, so he will play.

There is no mention of a fullback on the depth chart — AKA Jamardre Cobb — but that doesn’t mean Arizona won’t use him. But I do appreciate the goal line diamond formation, with Cobb, Zach Green and Nick Wilson in the backfield all at the same time.


Wide receivers

I’m not as confident as Rich Rodriguez is about this group. I just don’t see how you replace the veteran group of Samajie Grant, Trey Griffey and Nate Phillips.

Shun Brown is the go-to guy in the slot, and Shawn Poindexter seems ready to make the big jump as your 6-foot-5 outside target. Cam Denson should theoretically be next, but he’s battled his fair share of injuries since switching from cornerback.

We have an extremely small sample size between Cedric Peterson and Tony Ellison. Peterson is listed as a starting outside receiver over Denson, Ellison is listed as a starter in the slot over freshman Gary Brightwell . Both Peterson and Ellison have three career catches to their name.

The freshmen here, Brightwell and Brian Casteel, are two guys to watch out for. Production-wise, I’ve always seen Casteel as a Nate Phillips type of player.

It’s interesting to see Donovan Walker behind Poindexter and not Zach Benjamin, who seemed to have a pretty good spring and has a strong frame for himself at 6-foot-4, 211 pounds.

One name not on the list is Devaughn Cooper, who left the program unexpectedly but has since returned. Given the circumstances it’s a situation where he is going to be in the doghouse for a while.

In the second half of the season, I imagine Brightwell and Cooper split time in the slot opposite of Brown. Ellison can play outside if necessary.


Tight ends

Realistically, I only see Trevor Wood being used. Jamie Nunley is injured and is already ruled out for NAU. But overall if Rodriguez is getting his tight ends more involved in the offense, which doesn’t seem entirely likely, it will be Wood.

True freshmen Bryce Wolma and Bryce Gilbert don’t need to be rushed in.


Offensive line

The offensive line looks solid, with the same top eight guys that you expect. Layth Friekh at left tackle, Nathan Eldridge at center and Jacob Alsadek at right guard are your centerpieces.

Since the end of last season we knew it would be a battle at left guard between Christian Boettcher, who eventually took over late last season, and redshirt freshman/ former four-star recruit Michael Eletise. Then at right tackle it was Gerhard de Beer and Cody Creason.

I’d expect Creason to start over de Beer. And it’s impressive to see Boettcher still hold on to that spot over Eletise, though you’d like to see Eletise come in given his buildup.


Defensive line

The defensive line looks fairly solid compared to years past, which I know doesn’t mean much. The only player missing on the depth chart is Larry Tharpe Jr., who would likely be the starting defensive tackle over Parker Zellers.

Arizona might be getting Sione Taufahema back at some point, which would only boost this group. Jalen Cochran is also somewhere in the mix that gives the line another solid contributor.

The defensive is solid, but there’s going to be a lot of pressure on it to plug up the offensive line and create gaps and penetration for the linebackers to get in the backfield.


Linebackers

This is where things get interesting. DeAndre’ Miller is already ruled out for NAU, which gives Kylan Wilborn the nod as the starting stud linebacker. Wilborn can be a four-year contributor.

Missing from the stud is Jose Ramirez, who enrolled early in the spring and has the size to come in immediately as well. Lee Anderson II seemed to have had a strong spring so it’s impressive for Wilborn to step up. Jalen Harris just needs to add more bulk.

Brandon Rutt and Colin Schooler are listed at middle linebaker and I don’t think you can go wrong with either. Rutt really started to thrive after getting in the mix when Paul Magloire Jr. went down with an injury last season.

I feel like Schooler will eventually win the job outright. I just don’t think you can teach the instincts he has.

Will linebacker has a small surprise here in my opinion. While I felt like Tony Fields II was eventually going to be the starter, you would have figured Gavin Robertson would have been a quick rotation away.

Instead, Jacob Colacion is listed behind Fields. Colacion is a super-athletic linebacker who battled an injury he suffered late in his high school career, but has a load of upside.


Cornerbacks

There was a late position change with Dane Cruikshank that has shifted him over the spur, which leaves Jace Whittaker as the No. 1 corner and Lorenzo Burns at No. 2.

Burns has had two impressive fall camps for Arizona, which is said to have been a reason for the change.

It’s weird to finally see Sammy Morrison’s name back on the depth chart. Morrison started week one as a true freshman two seasons ago and slowly lost traction due to injuries.

I would keep an eye out for Tony Wallace. I think there’s potential for him to eventually be a starting corner at Arizona this season. He had offers to Nebraska and USC, so he can play.

There is not a lot of depth here, but worst-case scenario is bringing Cruikshank back over. Antonio Parks is still stashed in the background as well.


Safeties

So at spur, as mentioned before, is Dane Cruikshank now. I’m not a huge fan of the move but there could be multiple motives here and one that makes most sense to me is the coaching change.

When Marcel Yates took over the corners, he also inherited the spur position. My guess is that he just wasn’t a fan of Tristan Cooper, and felt like difference between Cruikshank and Burns at corner was minimal, but between Cooper and Cruikshank it was much larger.

While Dane was a solid corner, he also was called for a lot of pass interference a lot, which often extended drives. Now at spur he doesn’t have that much man-to-man coverage. But it also takes Tristan Cooper off the field and I’m not a fan of that.

Naturally, the spur is in position to make plays a la Will Parks and Tra’Mayne Bondurant, but Cooper was a really powerful safety and just seems to have the natural instincts to succeed at the position.

Isaiah Hayes might be out against NAU, so in comes my favorite recruit of the class, Scottie Young at free safety. He’s a dynamic, super-athletic playmaker that I’m really excited to watch patrol the top of the field.

Behind him is Jarrius Wallace, who had a really strong camp. He was a true free safety coming out of high school and is someone who I think has a bright career at Arizona.

Then there is Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, who is the leader of the defense at bandit. Behind him is Troy Young, who might not necessarily see the field all that much with DFF ahead of him, but is a young piece that will be pivotal to the future.

The safeties are going to have a lot of responsibility now with a young group at linebacker.

Anthony Mariscal or Chacho Ulloa aren’t on the depth chart, which is very interesting. They started to work their way up from special teams last season, but have suddenly disappeared from the depth chart with all of these freshmen coming in.

There’s also no mention of Jarvis McCall or Kwesi Mashack either. For McCall, his playing time was seriously affected with the new coaching change last season, while Mashack saw some time late last season.


Special teams

Lucas Havrisik was considered to be the best kicking prospect in the country. Given Josh Pollack’s heavy load of field goal, kickoff and punting last season, it was likely that Havrisik could ease the load.

Havrisik will be kicking off, and it’s going to be a battle between him and Pollack for field goals.

Jake Glatting will be the punter and holder.

It’s tough to see Matt Aragon on the bottom of the punting list, especially since he was splitting time at wide receiver, too.

Shun Brown will be returning kicks and punts and I think it’s the right guy. Eventually, I’d like to see Devaughn Cooper to step into that role as well.