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Arizona CB Jace Whittaker, DT PJ Johnson expected to return in 2019

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arizona-wildcats-pj-johnson-seattle-seahawks-free-agent-202-nfl-chargers-lions Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats added 20 new players during the Early Signing Period, but arguably their biggest acquisitions were keeping three key players in town for another season.

First, it was quarterback Khalil Tate, then it was cornerback Jace Whittaker and defensive lineman PJ Johnson, who Coach Kevin Sumlin expects to return in 2019.

“I do at this point,” he said Wednesday, referring to Whittaker and Johnson.

Whittaker, a senior who graduated in December, only appeared in one game in 2018 due to a left arm injury, allowing him to take advantage of the new redshirt rule and retain a year of eligibility.

Johnson, a redshirt junior, also graduated in December, meaning he could transfer to another school and be immediately eligible, or declare for the NFL Draft knowing he already has a degree in hand and theoretically would not have much to lose by forgoing his final year of eligibility.

Retaining both of them is huge for Arizona’s defense, which needs to make major strides in 2019 after finishing 99th in scoring defense this past season.

Whittaker is UA’s best cover corner when healthy and Johnson is a disruptive force on the defensive line, capable of lining up inside and outside.

The 6-foot-4, 335-pound junior college transfer finished with three sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble in nine games in his first season with the Wildcats.