Welcome back to our annual series in which we try to determine if the Arizona Wildcats’ position groups are in strong, stable, unstable, or critical condition heading into fall camp, which opens Aug. 6. Next up? The defensive line!
- Key returners: Aaron Blackwell (R-Sr.), JB Brown (Sr.), Trevon Mason (Sr.), Jalen Harris (R-Jr.), Kyon Barrs (So.), Paris Shand (Fr.)
- Key additions: Jason Harris (Fr.), Leevel Tatum III (Sr.), Kevon Garcia (Fr.)
- Key departures: Roy Lopez, Myles Tapusoa
There’s no doubt Arizona is going to be far more aggressive on defense this season. Don Brown wouldn’t have come to the desert just to rush three and play back in a zone.
The Wildcats are expected to put a lot more pressure on the quarterback this fall, and that effort starts in the trenches with a defensive line that seems poised to play a big role. That’s assuming the guys on the roster can adapt to Brown’s scheme and defensive line coach Ricky Hunley’s style.
Counting interior linemen and edge rushers, Arizona has at least 15 scholarship players to work with up front. That includes three players who have started at least 13 games: JB Brown, Jalen Harris and Trevon Mason.
Brown is back after opting out of the 2020 season, and his 6.5 career sacks are second-most on the team despite sitting out a year. The active team leader is Harris, who has seven, though he failed to register one in 2020 when he played outside linebacker. He’ll be back on the edge this year, creating a veteran pair with Brown on the outside.
Inside will be Mason, who has been arguably Arizona’s most consistent defensive lineman in his two seasons, and Aaron Blackwell, who is back for a seventh college season and should be fresh after sitting out the spring with biceps surgery. Kyon Barrs, who has shown flashes in his time and would be next man up inside if Blackwell or Mason gets hurt or struggles.
Two of Arizona’s transfer additions were for the line in Jason Harris, Jalen’s younger brother, and Leevel Tatum III, a late pickup from Fresno State. The Wildcats also added three defensive linemen in the 2021 recruiting class, with Kevon Garcia the one with the most upside.
While Arizona only had two sacks in five games in 2020, the defensive line wasn’t completely to blame for that. This group was better against the run, and if it can keep that up while also ramping up the pass rush it could turn some heads.