The Arizona Wildcats released their first depth chart of the season on Monday, and while it didn’t have any major surprises, there are some important things to point out nonetheless.
Here’s another look at the two-deep along with some position-by-position takeaways.
The only semi-interesting thing here is that junior Rhett Rodriguez is listed as the No. 2 QB ahead of true freshman Grant Gunnell. While the latter is more talented, Kevin Sumlin made it clear why Rodriguez is the backup.
“One guy’s got more experience than the other guy,” he said. “One guy’s been here since January. The other guy’s has been here (since) before I got here. He’s started a game and he’s played in games.”
Nothing to see here. J.J. Taylor is the starter, Gary Brightwell and Bam Smith are his backups, and Michael Wiley and Nathan Tilford could see some action in mop-up duty.
A true freshman, Wiley will likely play in up to four games just so the Wildcats can get a decent look at him and still preserve his redshirt, much like they did last season with Smith.
Again, not much to see here. Bryce Wolma is a traditional tight end who’s a solid blocker with pretty good receiving skills. Zach Williams, the No. 2, is a receiving tight end through and through. It will be interesting to see how involved these two actually are in the passing game. Tight ends didn’t see much action last season.
Texas A&M transfer Robert Congel beat out junior college transfer Josh Donovan for the starting left guard job, while it appears redshirt sophomores Edgar Burrola and Paiton Fears, a junior college transfer, were not able to separate from each other at right tackle. The one who doesn’t start presumably will back up Donovan Laie at left tackle, even though true freshman Jordan Morgan is listed as the backup there.
While Steven Bailey is pegged as the backup center, Congel would probably slide over if anything happened to Josh McCauley. Congel was recruited to the UA as a center.
This is where it gets interesting since the only player we knew would be listed as a starter is senior Cedric Peterson. Sumlin had a lot of praise for Drew Dixon during his weekly press conference, saying he has become a lot more consistent as a redshirt sophomore, something he wants to see from his entire team.
Then Sumlin had this to say about Jamarye Joiner, who at this point, is almost a sure-thing to be featured in the passing game: “The guy’s a really good athlete. One thing that you forget about, conceptually, when you make that move from quarterback to receiver, conceptually he’s already there because he’s gotta know the route tree, he’s gotta know the route combinations. It’s the technique that becomes the issue.
“But him walking through the door, changing positions and going out and playing receiver has probably been easier for him than some of these freshmen. All we had to do with him is coach technique. because he knows where everybody’s supposed to be. He’s a really good athlete, got great hand-eye (coordination). I lost a bet because he was catching punts the other day and he was doing that effortlessly. That just tells you what kind of athlete he is.”
True freshman Boobie Curry is near the top of the rotation too, and that isn’t surprising since he is a former four-star recruit and, arguably, the most talented receiver on the team. It will be imperative for him to get off to a quick start so that the coaching staff doesn’t opt to redshirt him after four games.
Meanwhile, insider receivers coach Theron Aych said the key for Brian Casteel to have a solid season in the slot is just to stay healthy.
“He knows that,” Aych said. “I mean, he’s a headsy player. Again, he brings a lot to the table. He looks really good this year. With two guys in front of him that are seniors that are no longer here, I mean, he knows it’s his time.”
Junior college transfers Myles Tapusoa and Trevon Mason not only are going to be instant impact players, both are scheduled to start against Hawaii too. That was not always a given, but the 300-plus-pounders have rounded into shape since the start of camp.
“I don’t think Myles could make it through warmups last spring,” Sumlin laughed. “We just kept looking for him, ‘where is he?’ He was tired. He’s down to ... 315, something like that. He might have been closer to 340-ish in the spring. Trevon, it’s been a little bit different because he just got here right before camp. We took it really, really easy with him. Just kind of brought him along slowly. He has gotten in shape. He’s in better shape than he was a month ago. With as much as Hawaii throws the ball, we’ll see how what kind of shape he is in Saturday night.”
Either way, the UA staff has said it plans to rotate its defensive line quite a bit, helping guys like Tapusoa and Mason stay fresh—and also so the Wildcats can match up against any kind of offensive look they encounter.
It appears their eight-man defensive line rotation will be Tapusoa, Mason, JB Brown, Finton Connolly, Justin Belknap, Mykee Irving (another big guy who gotten into better shape), Jalen Harris and Kylan Wilborn.
On average, they weigh 293 pounds.
“We’ve got more able bodies, guys that can really play without the talent level dropping off that much,” Sumlin said. “Some guys on the two-deep now, on the second team, they started games for us last year. The talent bar has been raised. There’s been great competition.”
Anthony Pandy and Tony Fields II being named co-starters has more to do with Pandy’s improvement than Fields’ regression. And based on what Sumlin said Monday, it sounds like those two will comprise a three-man rotation with Colin Schooler.
“Where he is right now and where he was last year are two different guys,” Sumlin said of Pandy. “I think it really started for him in the spring because there was unbelievable competition between he and Tony Fields, which has been healthy for our football team. Those guys, they’ve really worked at it, they both want to start. One guy has started a lot of games here and the other guy has not. It gives us an opportunity to get Colin (Schooler) off the field. It wasn’t a coincidence that he was sick at the end of the year. We need to be able to get a rotation in there.”
None of the first-teamers are surprising, as all five have started before, but it gets a little interesting behind them, especially at cornerback where true freshman Christian Roland-Wallace and Richmond transfer Samari Springs are listed as the backups. Roland-Wallace is physically ready to play and participated in spring ball, so he’s not your typical freshman. And while Springs arrived for fall camp, he started 20 games at Richmond albeit as a safety.
Sophomore McKenzie Barnes, who played in nine games last season, figures to be one of the main backups too. True freshman Jaxen Turner is listed at spur even though in camp, at least early on, UA coaches were saying he was lining up at corner.
Arizona went with the older guys. Fifth-year senior Matt Aragon beat out true freshman Kyle Ostendorp at punter, while redshirt junior Donald Reiter beat out true freshman Seth MacKellar at long snapper.
Junior Lucas Havrisik was always going to be the starting kicker. Aragon is doubling as the holder. This will the first year that Aragon, Havrisik, and Reiter are full-time starters, so while they might be older players, they are still somewhat of unknowns. And we know how volatile college special teams players are.
J.J. Taylor is handling kick returns again, and Brian Casteel or Stanley Berryhill III will be receiving punts, replacing the departed Shun Brown.