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Arizona’s defense will go with 4-man front, rotate frequently

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

When the Arizona Wildcats open the 2019 season just over a week from now in Hawaii, it’s anyone’s guess who will be starting up front on defense. And that’s a good thing.

A little over a week after defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said he and head coach Kevin Sumlin wanted at least an eight- or nine-man rotation in the trenches, defensive line coach Iona Uiagalelei indicated that number is even bigger.

“I think we’ve got three solid groups” of defensive linemen, Uiagalelei said Thursday. “The first two groups, there’s no falloff. Going into the third group they’re ready to roll.”

Uiagalelei said Arizona will work primarily out of a four-man front, compared to a three-man group most of last season. But which four will be out there at the start of each game could differ greatly by the week, while the quartet on the field at any time is likely to be very fluid.

“It all depends on who we’re playing,” he said when asked if wholesale substitutions, much like line shifts in hockey, were possible. “We can go that way or we can also spot guys in there in certain situations. We’re ready for either way.

“We’ve got a fast package, with all defensive ends, or a big front, so a lot of different combinations just trying to find the right chemistry.”

This is a major change from 2018, when depth was a major issue on the D-line. In addition to the arrival of junior college transfers Trevon Mason and Myles Tapusoa and some promising freshmen, Uiagalelei added more edge rushers who had previously been part of the linebacker room.

The undermanned Wildcats ranked 83rd in sacks per game (1.9) and 61st in opponent yards per carry (4.3) last season.

“With the depth that we have it makes it easier for me, compared to last year,” Uiagalelei said. “It was so tough because we were thin up front. Last year I didn’t have a lot of the studs in my room.”