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 backs!
- Key returners: Christian Young (Jr.), Rhedi Short (R-Jr.), Isaiah Mays (Jr.), Jaxen Turner (So.), Christian Roland-Wallace (So.)
- Key additions: Gunner Maldonado (Fr.), Isaiah Rutherford (So.), Jakelyn Morgan (Fr.)
- Key departures: Lorenzo Burns, Bobby Wolfe
Last year Arizona was so thin in the secondary it listed all its cornerbacks and safeties as “defensive backs” to mask the dearth of available bodies. Rhedi Short, who hadn’t appeared in a game in his three seasons with the Wildcats, ended up starting all five games at safety.
No offense to Short, who played admirably and led the team in unassisted tackles, but it wasn’t a good look.
This year the UA secondary will look completely different, not just because it got a much-needed influx of talent. Defensive coordinator Don Brown’s system, which is heavy on pressure and blitzing, includes a Viper position that is effectively a hybrid linebacker/safety.
Christian Young looks like the guy to play that spot, as his 6-foot-2, 214-pound frame combined with 24 career games playing on the back line are a strong combination.
The cornerbacks will be playing on an island this fall, which means a lot will be asked of Christian Roland-Wallace and Notre Dame transfer Isaiah Rutherford as well as backups like McKenzie Barnes, Malik Hausman (who opted out of the 2020 season) and incoming freshmen Jakelyn Morgan and Anthony Simpson.
Some of Arizona’s incoming freshman safeties could also see time at corner, as Isaiah Mays, Jaxen Turner and Northwestern transfer Gunner Maldonado will get first crack at the starting spots.
We’re going with “stable” mostly in relation to how things were a year ago. There’s no uncertainty about whether Arizona will have enough guys to play the positions, but a lot will be asked of them in Brown’s defense so their performance will go a long way toward determining how successful 2021 is for the Wildcats.