Safety had been one of Arizona’s strongest and deepest positions over the last few years and is now suddenly bare after a run of transfer portal hits.
Xavier Bell, Chacho Ulloa, Troy Young and now Scottie Young Jr. have all opted to transfer. Technically, they could still chose to return to Arizona so long as they left on good terms, however, very rarely does a player enter the portal only to return their original team.
It’s important to note Samari Springs, who joined the program last year and seemed like a promising addition as a versatile corner/safety. Unfortunately he didn’t appear in many games and appears to longer be a part of the team.
The good news is that the 3-4 defense under Paul Rhoads means there will typically be one less safety on the field compared to the previous 3-3 and 4-2 stacks we’ve seen over the years. That at least helps to cover up the lack of depth.
A way-too-early projected two-deep would have Christian Young retaining his starting role as a strong safety and Rhedi Short backing him up. With Scottie Young’s departure, Jarrius Wallace would likely slide back into a starting role at free safety with Jaxen Turner as depth. But also consider that Turner is so talented and versatile that he could easily win the starting job at free safety or slide down back up at strong safety.
In order to get some depth, Arizona can go a few different routes. It could start with the junior college market and transfer portal but I wouldn’t count on it, mainly because there are suitable pieces to move around and the staff has been very clear about not adding guys just for numbers.
So now onto some potential personnel changes.
I imagine the starting corners next year will be Lorenzo Burns and Christian Roland-Wallace so it rules those two as out. There’s a chance McKenzie Barnes could move to safety, but I would think he stays as the key rotational corner given his experience.
This makes Bobby Wolfe the key piece. He primarily played safety in high school and was one of the top prospects in the country. However on National Signing Day, Arizona announced him as a corner and he spent most of the season there which was a bit confusing to me given his skill set.
Free safety would be a natural fit and he would have a great chance at starting immediately over both Wallace and Turner.
But ultimately it would come down to how new secondary coach Greg Burns feels about his his position groups. Corner is usually a very fickle position where guys can fall out of favor or rise up the depth chart with different coaches, so there’s a chance he absolutely loves Wolfe at corner and moves someone like Barnes to free safety for depth.
If Wolfe remains at corner putting Oregon grad transfer Brenden Schooler at safety is a pretty obvious move. Schooler would likely fill in at a strong safety spot, sliding Young to free safety, which shouldn’t be a problem as it’s a position he’s played in the past.
While it would be nice to give Grant Gunnell a veteran receiver, a combination of Schooler and Young at safety gives Arizona a very strong secondary.
There hasn’t been a huge emphasis on recruiting safeties since Sumlin’s arrival. Both corner signees, Khary Crump and Edric Whitley are both specifically tailored for corner so it takes away that option.
However, it should be noted that Majon Wright, 2020 wide receiver signee, played a lot of safety in high school at a championship program. While it’s tough to move a fresh signee to a new position, if there’s a mutual desire there it could be an option.
This does provide an excellent opportunity for a walk-on rise to the occasion. Arizona currently has three with sophomore Quinn Sullivan out of powerhouse Bellevue (Bellevue, WA) or redshirt juniors Rourke Freeburg and Blake Pfaff and could add more during fall camp.
The loss of Scottie Young is a very sudden and huge loss for Arizona’s defense. Both Scottie and Christian would have provided stability to the back end of Arizona’s defense. But in the meantime I think Arizona has some viable options to make a good move until they can bring guys in for the 2021 class.