The time has come and we’re about to see what the Arizona Wildcats can do on the field in 2017. In what seems to have been the longest offseason ever, we’ve had nothing but months of coach speak.
This is a really young team, and with that will come quite a few mistakes. But on the flip side, in theory, the team should get better as the season goes on.
The depth chart was released last week and there were a lot of unproven, and even new names. So here are five players to watch as they open up the 2017 season against NAU.
5. Scottie Young Jr.
This list wouldn't be right if I didn't include my favorite commit of the 2017 class.
Scottie Young Jr. will be making his college debut as the starting free safety in place of injured sophomore Isaiah Hayes, who Rodriguez says still has a chance to play against NAU.
Young is a very instinctive, athletic playmaker that is going to be given a lot of responsibilities over the top of the field, especially with a strong quarterback like Case Cookus
Watching his highlights from Helix High School (La Mesa, Calif.), he reminds me a lot of former Wildcat and current Denver Bronco, Will Parks.
He just seems to be able to fly towards the ball and I'm intrigued by his closing speed, and his opportunities he will have to come away with a pick or a few pass deflections.
NAU will be a good measuring stick, and with Hayes as the returning starter, the staff is going to have find ways to keep Young on the field throughout the season.
4. Shawn Poindexter
The 6-foot-5 receiver has to step up as Arizona's top threat on the outside this season. He seems to have turned the corner this offseason, and is in prime position to lead this very inexperienced receiver group.
We didn't see much of Poindexter last year — he was sparingly used to open the second half in a couple games before he battled nagging injuries.
Now he's expected to be a full-time option, with what should be a more expansive route wheel. He's a guy who should see a handful of targets a game, threatening to attack the secondary deep. He can give Arizona some options at the goal line, hopefully with a 50/50 ball for a touchdown.
3. Dereck Boles
Arizona has some pretty good size and talent up front. Justin Belknap came onto the scene and earned himself a scholarship this offseason. And midway through the season the staff added Larry Tharpe Jr., who is arguably one of the most important pieces on defense, despite recording statistics in only five games last season.
Then, after some drama, Arizona landed former Boise State nose guard Dereck Boles, checking in at 6-foot-2, 296 pounds as a redshirt junior.
He had a strong fall camp and has already jumped redshirt senior Luca Bruno as the starter (at least according to the depth chart).
I think he will be a very dynamic piece to the defense, adding the size the line has needed for quite some time. While he might not be in on most tackles at the line of scrimmage, it’ll be his penetration and gap control that will be key up front.
2. Tony Fields II
Nobody was talked about more this fall than Tony Fields II.
The high-end three-star linebacker packed on about 25 pounds since arriving to campus in January, and has been penciled as the starting weak-side linebacker for a few weeks now.
He beat out Gavin Robertson Jr., who was previously a safety coming off a great spring session. I’d expect to see some mistakes from Fields since he’s a true freshman, he’s an ultra-athletic linebacker and just seems to have a knack to know where the ball is going.
1. Kylan Wilborn
I'll be honest, I didn't expect Kylan Wilborn to be one of the freshman linebackers to start. He had really good film, but being at the stud linebacker spot, I would have expected early enrollee Jose Ramirez to take that spot. Wilborn also held off sophomore Lee Anderson III for the starting job.
Wilborn is a 6-foot-3, 245-pound edge guy who is going to remind a lot of people of Derrick Turituri.
I'm interested to see how Wilborn comes off the edge on a pass rush. He’s a big body that can potentially cause some havoc, especially against a FCS team. He can deliver a big hit and I'm hoping we see some collisions with a running back set to block.
NAU-Arizona viewing info
Time: 8 p.m. MST
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Live stream: Pac-12.com/live