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Arizona’s new defensive scheme could unlock Anthony Pandy’s pass rushing potential

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 24 Arizona State at Arizona Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Colin Schooler and Tony Fields II are the faces of the Arizona Wildcats defense, but fellow linebacker Anthony Pandy quietly put together a productive season in 2019, finishing with 66 tackles, third-most on the team.

That came after Pandy only had 25 tackles as a sophomore the year prior. Head coach Kevin Sumlin sees that trio as the key to Arizona’s defense if/when the 2020 season kicks off.

“I think our three linebackers have proven that they are all-league caliber players,” Sumlin said on a Wildcat Chat. “Colin Schooler has been here, played a lot of football, Anthony Pandy really came on and had a great year last year. Obviously, Colin Schooler and Tony Fields have played a lot.”

Arizona might even be able to get more of that trio, particularly Pandy, now that it has a new defensive coaching staff and new scheme.

“Moving to a 3-4 gives us the opportunity to get Pandy on the field a little bit more, maybe as a pass rusher,” Sumlin explained. “He’s gained some weight. He’s strong. He’s closer to 240 (pounds) now than than he was. He really flashed a lot last year.”

Pandy had two sacks last season when he was listed at 6-feet, 225 pounds. If he can make more of an impact as a pass rusher, it would help fix Arizona’s biggest flaw. The Wildcats only tallied 17 sacks last season, dead last in the Pac-12. Not so coincidentally, they were also last in the conference in yards per game (471.4). It’s hard to get stops if you can’t pressure the quarterback.

Jalen Harris is another returner to watch for. The redshirt junior is moving from defensive end to outside linebacker in the new scheme, perhaps a better fit for his lanky 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame.

Harris once tallied 30 sacks in three seasons at Mesa’s Desert Ridge High School. He’s racked up seven as a Wildcat, including four last season, a team high.

“I’m really excited,” Harris told Arizona Athletics. “I think we’re really building something. We’ve already formed great relationships with the new defensive staff and they’re always available to talk to and encouraging us to ask more questions. I really enjoyed that first week (of spring practice).”