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 linebackers!
- Key returners: Anthony Pandy (Sr.), Issaiah Johnson (R-So.), Rourke Freeburg (R-Jr.)
- Key additions: Jerry Roberts (R-Jr.), Kenny Hebert (Sr.), Malik Reed (Fr.), Treshaun Hayward (Sr.)
- Key departures: DJ Mourning
How bad was Arizona’s linebacker situation in 2020? A pair of walk-ons made nine starts over five games.
And while Rourke Freeburg and Parker Henley held their own, combining for 35 tackles with 4.5 for loss, the fact they had to play so much illustrated just how thin the Wildcats were at that position.
The new coaching staff put a lot of focus on adding talent at LB this offseason, bringing in four FBS transfers who are also expected to contribute immediately. That includes ex-Western Michigan LB Treshaun Hayward, the 2019 Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year, who is reportedly back with the program after being dropped in the spring.
Jerry Roberts comes to the UA from Bowling Green, while Kenny Hebert played at Vanderbilt and Malik Reed spent one season at Wisconsin. They’ll combine with longtime Wildcat Anthony Pandy, who has played in 37 games and has recorded 130 tackles with three interceptions.
Pandy and two of the transfers are likely to be the starters, but depth is needed with Arizona set to employ a much more aggressive defense. Issaiah Johnson, who came into his own in 2020 after being moved off the defensive line.
Arizona also had three freshmen joining the team this summer in Jackson Bailey, DJ Fryar and Mojo Weerts, but the learning curve figures to be steep for them.
And then there’s the wild card, Jabar Triplett, who had knee surgery in January after missing the 2020 season with an Achilles injury.
On paper, Arizona is much better at linebacker than a year ago, but the vast majority of the expected contributors haven’t gotten into an actual practice with the Wildcats. Expectations and projections are very likely to change depending on how training camp goes.