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Arizona defensive line coach Iona Uiagalelei talks four-man fronts, big bodies, spring standouts, and more

USC v Arizona Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Football is won in the trenches and if the Arizona Wildcats wants to see themselves back in the top half of the Pac-12, bulking up at the point of attack on the defensive front is where they have to start.

Defensive line coach Iona Uiagalelei spoke with the media about Monday about where the Wildcats stand in that regard, plus a lot of other things.

Here is the full interview along with the transcription.

Arizona defensive line coach Iona Uiagalelei on spring practice, depth, and who’s caught his eye so far:

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Monday, April 1, 2019

Q: So how do you fill the gap left by Dereck Boles and P.J. Johnson left?

A: “Oh, that’s tough. They’re a big part of our D-line. They did a great job last year. But we got some good recruits coming in and guys here are working hard. Guys are stepping up. (Finton Connolly), Nahe Sulunga, he’s doing everything he’s taught to do and he’s getting better.”

Q: Who has impressed you the most so far?

A: Right now I will say Jalen (Harris) is probably our top defensive linemen right now. He’s coming into his own. He’s playing with a lot of confidence, got a little swag to him now, which he didn’t have last year. And he’s making plays. Coach (Brian Johnson), our strength coach, has done a great job getting those guys bigger, stronger. He’s putting on a lot of weight. He’s just talented. He’s a good player, comes off the edge, (he’s) long. So I’m really happy well about his improvement.

Q: What number constitutes depth to you?

A: I like to have about 12. Two groups for sure, and then if I can get three groups or two and a half, that’s depth. And I like to have fresh legs because I like to rotate guys, make sure guys are not pacing themselves, they’re going all going 100 percent. And then we’ll get the next group coming in. And if we get a third group, 12 to 16 guys, we will be fine.

Q: You’re talking about the four positions though, right?

A: Right now we have about 11 or 12. If we’re all healthy, we have 12. We have some injuries.

Q: Do you have enough big bodies?

A: Right now we have enough, but we can never have enough. I think the guys that we have now are doing a super job of fighting and working hard. Those defensive ends that we brought in are a little bit more athletic, so we’re sliding up front and getting those guys in position where they can use their strengths in terms of their weight. .... So yeah, we could use a little bit more weight up there, but we’ll be fine.

Q: Was Kylan Wilborn with you? How do you get his confidence up after a down sophomore year?

A: Now with Kylan, we’re all in a four-man front, we are in the same room, we’re all together, and he’s playing with a lot more confidence. We don’t have a lot of thinking for him in terms of dropping back and (covering the) flats. Now he can just go. Which, if you remember his freshman year, all his sacks, he would just put his hand down and just go. And that’s what we’re doing right now with him and he’s playing a lot of confidence. Him and Jalen Harris, we’re gonna be pretty good off the edge.

Q. Is that a change from last season in terms of who is coaching those guys or how much time you’re spending with them?

A: No, we’re going with a four-man front a little bit. But, to me, the scheme is the same because we’ll go into a three-man front at times. But right now we’re just keeping it simple, keeping those four guys’ hand in the dirt. And we’re in the same room together, watching the same film, so they’re feeding off each other, understanding their responsibilities on the outside and inside and they can work hand in hand.”

Q. What was the thought process about moving Jalen Cochran to the inside?

A: He’s long and he’s athletic. He can be a great three-tech. He’s about 270, 275 (pounds), 6-foot-4, and I think he’s going to be a great inside guy for us.

Q: We’ve heard multiple people say that JB Brown has impressed during spring camp, how has he impressed you?

A: “Inside, outside. And with him, he’s understanding the game. Now they’ve been a year with me, so they know my expectations. In the beginning we were just kind of feeling each other out, understanding what what I want from them. And now they understand and this spring my thing was to be fundamentally sound and getting better each day. But JB has really, really stepped it up and almost separate itself in terms of making plays, understanding the scheme, because he can go inside or outside.

Q. Do you expect all the defensive tackle recruits to contribute this season, including Kane (Bradford)?

A: Yes. Just in terms of our depth inside, I think once we get them all here, I think we’re going to have a great rotation because we’ve got big bodies that can take up the two gaps — Cochran, Bradford, Trevon Mason. I can’t wait to get them all in.

Q: My-King Johnson came in here as a pretty touted recruit, and he hasn’t seen the playing field yet. What does he need to do to get out there?

A: Just more confident. He’s putting on good weight. His thing last year was he was a little light. But now he’s got a lot of weight on now. ... He’s working hard. He’s taking advantage of the opportunity of some of the injuries we have. So he’s got his reps increased.

Q: When you came here, one of the tasks that they asked of us to kind of reestablish that Polynesian recruiting pipeline, how would you assess the progress that’s been made?

A: It’s been good. Coach (Kevin) Sumlin does a great job in terms of letting us get out there and recruit the guys. Especially with the Polynesian pipeline they’ve had in the past, we’re getting a lot of good feedback, guys coming in understanding the history that we have in Arizona. Their uncles and their relatives played here. Polynesian people are a very small, very tight-knit community, so they understand that (Arizona) has got a Polynesian coach there, so we’re getting a lot of feedback.

Q: Which offensive linemen have jumped out at you?

A: Obviously Donovan Laie. That kid, I think he’s going to be playing on Sundays. Some of the junior college guys, Josh Donovan and Paiton Fears, those are the guys that are showing signs that we’re going to be pretty good up front.

Q: What do you think of (offensive line) coach Kyle DeVan?

A: I think he’s a player’s coach. Guys can really relate to him. At the same time, he’s firm, he’s very detailed in what he teaches and I think the players rally around him.