Spring football is always a time for some of the younger Arizona Wildcats to make their big jump. They’ve had a year or two in the system, they know what to expect, and they’ve been able to train accordingly to make a big jump.
And with Kevin Sumlin in town, the evaluation process is even more interesting since he admitted he hasn’t watched much tape of his new players because he wants a “clean slate.”
The offense has an entirely new staff aside from Theron Aych at wide receiver. And obviously on defense Marcel Yates will have a say in who he wants, but there are a few guys who can easily impress Sumlin with a good spring.
Here are six guys who I think will use this spring to make some bigger contributions in 2018.
My-King Johnson, DE, redshirt freshman
A late UCLA flip from the 2017 recruiting class, Johnson redshirted as a freshman, which allowed him to develop a bit more. It would be beneficial if he added some more weight, as he was listed at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds last season.
I think he fits better as a defensive end rather than at stud linebacker spot where Kylan Wilborn plays, with another up-and-comer Jalen Harris, who has nearly the same frame as Johnson.
Johnson has the frame to easily go up to 240-250 pounds, and aside from Justin Belknap he’s really the only true defensive end on the roster. The size progression we’ve seen from Francisco Nelson, who entered the program at around 215 pounds and is now at 241 pounds, is something I’d expect to see from Johnson.
Tony Wallace, CB, sophomore
Arizona held off some late pushes from Nebraska and USC to reel Tony Wallace to Tucson, and as a freshman he worked his way into the rotation.
Arizona’s cornerback depth is not very good. Jace Whittaker and Lorenzo Burns are the two returning starters, but after that it’s open game with Sammy Morrison and Malcolm Holland, who have played in reserve roles, and Antonio Parks, who I think is ready to turn the corner himself.
Wallace played in 10 games last season, totaling four tackles. Given a full spring and some coaching from Demetrice Martin, I think he can work his way in as the No. 3 corner, a spot that really gets a lot of reps on game day.
There isn’t a lot of solid depth at the position, but overall, I think Tony Wallace gives Jace Whittaker a run for most talented cornerback.
Kurtis Brown, DT, sophomore
Even after tearing his meniscus his senior year of high school, Kurtis Brown managed to find himself in the defensive line rotation as a true freshman, and looks to take over as a starter this season. Brown played in 10 games last season and recorded eight tackles (two for loss) and a sack.
At 6-foot-1, 285 pounds, Brown will likely be staying at defensive tackle, and behind him I expect to see junior college transfer Sione Taufahema (6-foot-1, 330 pounds) and true freshman Mykee Irving (6-foot-4, 310 pounds).
I expect the defensive front to have Justin Belknap, Dereck Boles and Kurtis Brown up front week one. Belknap and Boles are both veterans, but Brown will need to have a big spring to step in.
Brian Casteel, WR, sophomore
One of my favorite recruits of the 2017 class, Casteel was a do-it-all receiver at Charter Oak High School (Covina, CA).
Rich Rodriguez really burned his redshirt year by having him run a couple routes a game, playing in 11 contests, yet only recording one catch for 24 yards.
Arizona’s wide receiver depth isn’t great, which is why Rodriguez put such a heavy emphasis on pass catchers in the 2018 recruiting class.
The wide receiver corps looks like Shun Brown, Tony Ellison, Keyshawn Johnson Jr. and Shawn Poindexter. That’s pretty much it.
Devaughn Cooper has a chance to breakout after he ended up seeing the field a few times after he left the team temporarily last summer. But overall, I think Casteel is one of more the talented and well-rounded receivers on the roster.
He’ll have a Nate Phillips type of career at Arizona, and then some.
Michael Eletise, OL, redshirt sophomore
The former four-star recruit chose Arizona over virtually every school in the country.
Now, Arizona is looking to replace three starters on the offensive line — both guards and a right tackle. Eletise was listed at left guard on the two-deep last season. Now a redshirt sophomore and listed at 6-foot-3, 318 pounds, Eletise could play left or right guard.
Alex Kosinski, a redshirt junior, was also listed on the two-deep last season at right guard.
But Arizona also has two big junior college transfer guards in Steven Bailey and Maisen Knight.
There are multiple combinations that Sumlin can create on the offensive line, but overall I think that Eletise is one of the four or five guys in play who will end up securing a starting role. This is the big spring for him, and he could be on track to be a three-year starter at Arizona.