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Arizona’s bulked up defensive line ‘looks really good’

The Wildcats’ defense is bigger in 2018, but will it be better?

arizona-wildcats-defensive-line-college-football-uiagalelei-boles-kevin-sumlin-spring-practice Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

After years of having an undersized defensive line, the Arizona Wildcats finally have some girth up front.

The Wildcats added hog mollies like PJ Johnson and Mykee Irving this offseason — both weigh over 300 pounds and measure well over 6-feet tall — to go along with incumbent defensive tackles Dereck Boles and Finton Connolly, who have bulked up and now eclipse the 300-pound mark themselves.

“That line looks really good,” said UA safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles. “Everyone has gained a lot of weight, people have put in a lot of work this summer, and hopefully it pays off.”

One would assume that extra size and depth will help Arizona generate a more consistent pass rush and offer more resistance in the running game, but new head coach Kevin Sumlin isn’t ready to draw conclusions after just one day of fall camp.

“It depends how they play,” he said Friday. “Size is one thing, but you better be able to move and you better be able to hold gaps. We’ll see where they are. I know they’re bigger than they were last year just looking at weights. Some guys need to lose some weight. There’s some guys out there that are big but can’t move. I think across the board they improved physically and we’ll see if that’s good enough.”

It better be. The Wildcats had one of the worst defenses in college football last season, allowing 34.4 points per game, which ranked 109th (of 130) in the country.

Arizona’s linebacking corps, consisting of two Freshman All-Americans, was a bright spot and the secondary had its moments of brilliance, leading the Pac-12 with 19 interceptions, but the defensive line was a glaring weakness all season.

Arizona got pushed around far too often, allowing teams like Oregon, USC, and Colorado to rush for over 300 yards.

While the Wildcats’ offense was able overcome the defense’s ineptitude at times, the latter will need to make a big improvement — perhaps one the size of PJ Johnson — to emerge as a legitimate Pac-12 title contender in 2018.

“Have you seen him?” Flannigan-Fowles said of Johnson, a JuCo product. “He’s going to be real good. He just has to keep putting the work in and getting at it.”